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Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules in Favor of Severely Injured Fireworks Display Volunteer

As Fourth of July celebrations near in Pennsylvania, firework safety should be on the forefront of everyone’s minds.   Fireworks are often enjoyed amongst others at friends’ and neighbors’ backyards, but in the midst of fun accidents often occur.  A recently published case, Thompson v. Ginkel, No. 1409 WDA 2013, reviewed the civil litigation for a case involving an injured man assisting with a fireworks display.  The trial court awarded summary judgment in favor of the lead technician and his employer, and the injured man appealed.

The injured man was assisting two technicians who were setting off timed fireworks during a 12-14 minute program.  The man volunteered to count every shell upon launch to ensure that it exploded.  He stayed 50 feet away from the staging area and wore protective gear provided by the lead technician.  One firework shell did not rise properly but exploded near the volunteer, causing burns, partial blindness, and the loss of some fingers.  The volunteer sued, asserting that the fireworks were negligently prepared and executed by the lead technician.  The technician first filed for summary judgment and claimed that the volunteer assumed the risks inherent in assisting a fireworks display, particularly since he had helped with displays in the past.  In response, the injured man provided the statement from an expert witness who determined that the shells used in the finale show were 2.5 inches in diameter in a 3=inch tube.  The experts concluded that the use of oversized tubes can result in the escape of excessive gases around the shell and can cause the shell to not stand upright and vertical in the tube prior to explosion.  The injured person asserted that, while he may have assumed the risk of assistance by volunteering with the fireworks display, he did not know or assume the risks inherent in the heightened danger of using shells with a higher probability of “low breaks”.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed whether the the trial court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of the technician, precluding the ability to obtain damages through trial.  In its ruling, the lower court determined that no reasonable juror could disagree that a 3-inch shell from a 3-inch tube injured the man.  The Superior Court reviewed the statement provided that established the volunteer was injured by the last event, and that the volunteer’s expert opinion based on evidence submitted that the shell used was 2.5 inches in diameter was made within a reasonable degree of engineering certainty.  The Superior Court ultimately decided that the lower court erred in its determination and remanded the case for trial,allowing the injured person an opportunity to argue his case.

During the Fourth of July, be sure to use caution when lighting fireworks, and observe displays at a safe distance.  When accidents do occur, the Pennsylvania premises liability attorneys at Needle Law Firm are here to help you recover the monetary damages you or your family member needs to cover medical bills, utility bills, and lost wages.  For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 570-344-1266.

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