Fourth of July: Beware

Residents of Massachusetts cannot purchase or set off fireworks in Massachusetts, absent a license. The Fourth of July is a time for celebration and family gatherings, but is also, unfortunately, can be a time for accidents and serious personal injuries associated with the use of illegal fireworks. It is illegal for a private citizen to use, possess, or sell fireworks in Massachusetts. It is also against the law to purchase fireworks in another state and transport them into Massachusetts. See, M.G.L. c. 148, § 9. Massachusetts is the only state with a complete bar on all consumer fireworks. This includes fireworks, bottle rockets, sparklers, snakes, etc.

Although the criminal penalties seem rather insignificant, or minimal, civil penalties and potential civil liability can be significant. If someone is injured through the use of fireworks that you light, provide, or set off, or allow to be set off, you may be liable for civil damages. However, a homeowner, generally, not aware and/or permitting the use of such fireworks, is not generally liable In Luoni v. Berube, 431 Mass. 729 (2000), the SJC rejected the Plaintiff’s suggestion that as a matter of public policy, a rule should be imposed establishing a duty on social hosts to police their property or otherwise control the activities of their guests. The general rule is that a landowner does not owe a duty to take affirmative steps to protect against the dangerous or unlawful acts of third persons, absent a special relationship. The SJC noted that no duty existed in Berube where an unidentified guest, without the homeowner’s permission, brought fireworks to the property. The court analyzed the case similar to a social host liability theory involving the use of alcohol, where an individual does not control or provide the harmful item or its use, nor creates the situation that caused the danger. In such a scenario, liability should not attach. Be forewarned, however, that if there is permission, express or implied, for the use of fireworks, liability may very well attach to the homeowner. The takeaway lesson: Don’t take chances. If there is any indication of someone at your property with illicit firearms, instruct them not to set off the fireworks, to remove the fireworks from the premises, or alternatively, ask the guest to leave. Lives may otherwise be altered forever should something go wrong.

If you have any concerns about liability for actions taken by third parties at your home, please contact us to see if one of our attorneys can help.

Author: Barry M. Ryan, Esq.