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New Year's Day is a popular holiday for fireworks, and it's also a time that brings questions about fireworks ordinances and risk management checks for city fireworks displays.

Local fireworks ordinances

Under South Carolina law, cities and towns can take steps to regulate the use of fireworks within their boundaries, but they cannot prohibit or criminalize the use of fireworks. Making sure that municipal ordinances do not conflict with state law is an important part of managing legal risks on fireworks.

Local governing bodies do have the power to create a Fireworks Prohibited Zone, according to SC Code Section 23-35-175. They can also regulate the time when fireworks may be discharged.

A 2011 South Carolina Attorney General opinion noted that local officials should be careful to make violations of local fireworks ordinances punishable only with civil penalties, much like the penalties found in smoking prohibitions.

Managing city-sponsored displays

When cities and towns make firework displays a part of their New Year's celebrations, they should make sure their fireworks display company has appropriate insurance. Virtually all insurance coverage for cities and towns specifically excludes coverage for fireworks displays, and municipalities generally cannot acquire separate coverage for fireworks displays since they are not in control of the fireworks display company.

Fireworks display companies should have coverage including

  • workers' compensation;
  • auto liability; and
  • general liability coverage, with the coverage limits equal to or greater than the coverage limits carried by the municipality.

The municipality should also be named as an additional insured entity on the display company's auto liability and general liability certificates of insurance, as provided directly from the insurance provider. The possibility exists that coverage could be canceled between the time the insurance provider issues the certificate and the event, so it's a good idea to call the insurance provider or the insurance agent on the last business day before the event to confirm that the coverage is still active.

SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members can contact Robert Collins, underwriting manager, at rcollins@masc.sc or 803.933.1279 for more information about coverage requirements for fireworks display companies.