Burnett & Williams



fireworks in boxes

With July 4 celebrations just around the corner—and using one of our cases to illustrate the point—we remind everyone how dangerous fireworks can be, especially when combined with alcohol and jealousy.

This case involved a backyard barbecue, the quintessential American celebration of Independence Day. The hosting couple spent long hours preparing for the celebration. Food was prepared, coolers were filled, decorations were hung, and fireworks were purchased.

Now the fireworks they bought were not the usual sparklers and pinwheels enjoyed by children. No, this couple decided to entertain their guests with firecrackers and skyrockets, which are illegal in Virginia unless managed by a licensed pyrotechnic professional. More than likely, these fireworks were purchased in a neighboring state without such a restriction and then illegally transported into Virginia.

As the celebration unwound, the couple was surely happy that their event was proceeding according to plan. Their guests were well-fed and had retired to a hill in the backyard to watch the fireworks show.

The manufacturer had mounted the sky rocket in such a way that all that was necessary was to ignite them. A brief time elapsed before the fuse burnt into the propellant so the sky rocket would shoot hundreds of feet into the air before bursting into a beautiful and colorful pattern.

Unfortunately, a problem unfolded. The inebriated wife had become annoyed that her equally inebriated husband had been flirting with a female guest. While the husband ignited the skyrockets, they exchanged angry words, and a scuffle ensued between them that knocked-over the skyrocket so it was lying on its side.

Perhaps they did not notice it before it could be righted as they continued to shove each other, or there was insufficient time. Either way, the tragedy begins when the skyrocket ignited and shot across the backyard up the skirt of one of their female guests. She had no time to react as the skyrocket burst into flames under her skirt. She sustained second degree burns in between her legs, and on her thighs and buttocks.

One can only imagine the screaming from burns to such a sensitive area. The other guests carried her into a spare bedroom and began to administer first aid. Our client described the pain as her girlfriend tried to remove the nylon panties that had burnt on her skin. To make things worse, she was also humiliated from the other guests jostling for a view.

We filed a negligence suit and reached a settlement with the host couple’s homeowners insurance company, but not before our client had to relive that night’s horror in a deposition. My thought was there was no amount of money that could compensate for the pain and humiliation.

Here are our thoughts about Independence Day safety:

-Purchase only legal fireworks
-Limit your alcohol intake
-Wear eyeglasses and gloves when enjoying any fireworks
-Use fireworks according to the manufacturer’s instructions

From all of us at Burnett & Williams, we wish you a happy and safe Independence Day celebration.