The Legal Insider

July 2017

How to Have a Safe 4th of July

It's that time of year again, when Americans gather round to proudly honor and celebrate the birth of our nation in 1776. Of course, what would a 241st birthday celebration be without an outdoor summer party? Outlined below are a few precautions to keep yourself and your guests safe.

Fire Risks

Gathering around a fire is a classic American pastime. Whether it's a grill or fire pit, the following tips may prevent a serious accident (and possible lawsuit):
  • Always keep an outside grill at least three feet away from your house and structures.
  • Never, ever leave a fire unattended.
  • Keep flammables away from a fire. Yes, this includes alcohol.
  • If a fire pit has a lid, use it; keep the pit away from trees.
  • Use solar-powered tiki torches.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit near.

How to Have a Safe 4th of July

Smoke Inhalation

When it comes to breathing, keep a safe distance from open flames and smoke. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen outdoors too, so take precautions to limit exposure. Gas smokers can also be injurious, and create a liability if someone is injured. Remember, not all wood is safe to burn, and some variations are toxic. Check to ensure that what you are burning, is safe.


When too much alcohol is involved, and someone falls and hits their head, runs into a slider door, or falls backwards in their chair, seek immediate treatment. As a social host, you can be held liable for injuries due to overindulgence in alcohol. Concussions are serious; combined with drinking, they can cause traumatic brain injury. Call 911 immediately.

Noise Complaints

Parties can be loud, and neighbors typically don't appreciate a rowdy game of Limbo. Give your neighbors a heads-up about your upcoming gathering; they may be less likely to call the police. Keep the music at a reasonable volume, or risk receiving a noise violation. Laws vary by community, and getting a ticket just isn't worth it. Most importantly, be kind and considerate to your neighbors.

The In's and Out's of Fireworks

No Fourth of July celebration would be complete without fireworks. From lighting sparklers on the front porch, to the awe-inspiring displays put on across the country. There's no question about it, America loves fireworks. Americans can also take their love for the explosive devices a little too far.

The In's and Out's of Fireworks

Illegal Fireworks

Fireworks and carelessness are a bad combination. Most states have strict regulations regarding the sale, transport, and use of fireworks. If you break the law, you may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. It's wise to research the laws in your area before purchasing, storing, transporting, or using fireworks, as any of these may be illegal.

The federal government also prohibits using fireworks as weapons, bringing them into airports, and transporting them to a prohibited area. If you were to injure someone or damage property, you could be held liable for civil damages.

Liability Injuries to Others and Self For Lighting Fireworks

Injuries from fireworks can range from minor burns to death. If you light a firework, and someone gets hurt, your negligence may be grounds for a liability claim. Some states have strict liability laws. So, even if you weren't negligent, you can still be held responsible.

Most claims involve underage and/or unsupervised kids being allowed to light fireworks, or from picking up what appears to be a dud. Keep your kids and others safe, by not allowing their use. To protect yourself even further, make sure your homeowners or renters insurance has a high liability limit. Hospital bills, damage, and fire loss are all expensive claims.

How to Camp Out and Follow Park Rules

If you are the type who loves the great outdoors, heading to one of our country's 59 National Parks can be a wonderful weekend getaway. Each park has different rules, so know what to expect beforehand.

Obeying No Fire Rules

If the park you are planning to visit has a burn ban in place, do not light a fire. Some parks may allow certain types of fires, but not others. Call in advance, or check with the visitor's center upon arrival. By lighting a fire in a no-fire area, you can face serious fines and charges depending on the current fire warning.

Keep in mind that restrictions on lighting campfires are always for public safety, and if you start a wildfire you can face up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $ 5,000. A man who set a fire that burned nearly 100,000 acres of California was ordered to pay $60 million in restitution and face 20 years in prison. As always, follow Smokey Bear's advice, because only you can prevent wildfires.

How to Camp Out and Follow Park Rules

Following Park Ranger Instructions

Park rangers are in place to ensure the safety of visitors, to protect the environment, and to enforce the law. Do not disobey their instructions, or you may find yourself facing a hefty ticket, or worse, criminal charges. Remember that Park Rangers have the power to arrest those who violate the Park rules, and National Park Rangers are part of federal law enforcement.

Your Campground is Not Your Private Property

Campgrounds have rules, too. Plan ahead, and know what to expect. Park rangers circulate around campgrounds, and will issue fines if you are not following the rules. Keep the noise down, fires contained, pets leashed, and drive slowly. Also, make sure to properly store and dispose of food, or risk having a visit from a hungry bear. Lastly, pack out what you packed in. Please leave our parks cleaner than you found them.

Fishing and Hunting Licenses

Always pick up your fishing or hunting license before catching or killing dinner. States have different licensing requirements and regulations, so make sure you're in the know before you go. You don't want to find yourself at the wrong end of a pricey ticket.

Hunting Accidents

Operating a firearm or bow is dangerous, and hunting accidents are no laughing matter. Take precautions to avoid seriously injuring or killing someone, and prevent yourself from suffering harm. Take a hunter safety course, always wear hunter orange, and never point your weapon at another person. If you injure someone, you may face fines and/or jail time, as well as personal injury or civil liability claims. If you kill someone, it is very possible that criminal charges related to homicide will follow.

Visiting the County Fair 101

The smell of caramel corn, deep fried everything, strange competitions… the county fair is back in town, and citizens everywhere are gearing up for an excitement-filled summer of indulgence.

Dangerous Rides

It's almost a given, that if you are about to embark upon a county fair ride, a little voice in the back of your head is questioning whether or not it's safe. More than likely, you saw ride disclaimers releasing the operator from liability in case of an accident. Once you buckle up, you are making an assumption of risk, because you already know it is dangerous.

It may seem almost impossible for an injured party to sue an operator, due to the ride disclaimer and the assumption of risk. However, disclaimers are rarely enforceable in injury cases, particularly when underage children are involved.

Fair's Liability for Injuries

Visiting the County Fair 101

Typically, the most common injury claims for amusement parks are negligence and product liability. For negligence, it must be proved that the park and or its employees failed to be reasonably careful, and from this carelessness, injuries occurred. A product liability case against the manufacturer may result if the ride itself, or its parts contributed to an accident.

Fair's Liability for Their Employees

Generally, the organization that is putting on the fair, as well as vendors, are responsible for having liability insurance for all employees. Employers and employees have a duty of care for others. Simply put, if someone can foresee the possibility of injuring others as a result of their own actions, they are responsible.

Either the employer, the employee, or both may be found liable for breaching their duty of care to the victim. In the case of the employer, they may be held responsible for negligence in employment. For example, they may have failed in the training of the employee, or even hired someone who wasn't qualified for the position. As with any business, if a customer is injured, the possibility of a lawsuit is possible.