Bonfire Night 2021: Who is at fault if someone gets injured by a firework? What are my legal rights?

With Bonfire Night approaching, the legal organisation DAS has put together a list of tips about how to protect yourself legally during firework displays.

Bonfire Night firework display. (Pic credit: Marie Caley)

Everybody is excitedly preparing for Bonfire Night, looking forward to making up for last year when all public gatherings for Guy Fawkes Night were cancelled due to Covid.

Whilst the celebrations bring joy to so many, fireworks and bonfires can be very dangerous if not taken seriously.

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DAS advises on how to enjoy the night and at the same time remain on the right side of the law.

Legal advisor at DAS Law, Lauren Woolf, explains who is responsible if someone gets injured by a firework, what the restrictions are when it comes to a bonfire or firework displays and what to do if your neighbour’s bonfire causes damage to your property.

What fireworks can be set off?

Category two or three adult fireworks can be used by anyone on private property.

Only licensed professionals can purchase and set off category four fireworks, whether on private property or at an organised public event.

What is the curfew?

In general, fireworks on private property can be set off any time of the year between 7am and 11pm.

However, at certain times of the year this curfew is extended, for example, on Bonfire Night, the end time is extended to midnight and on New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali it is extended to 1am.

It is advised that you check with your local authority whether there are any extra limitations as local by-laws may affect these curfews.

What are my legal rights if I am holding my own firework display?

To legally host your own firework event, you must be over 18 years old, have bought the fireworks from a licensed supplier and if you are setting them off in a public place, you must have obtained permission from the relevant authority.

Even though it is legal to set off fireworks on private land, if you are a tenant in a property it is worth checking with the landlord if there are any stipulations preventing you from setting off fireworks in your contract.

Remember that you have a duty of care to ensure the safety of your neighbours and guests if you have your own firework display. So check the online guidelines of the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) to make sure that you are fully prepared and informed of the necessary precautions to take.

Also, all fireworks come with instructions which you should follow carefully and any negligence, such as setting them off in an inappropriate environment or against the published instructions, can result in injury to someone or damage property. This can make you liable for a civil claim.

If you are setting off fireworks on private land, it is also recommended that you check whether your home insurance cover limits to check what protection there is for damage caused by explosion, fire or smoke. Most insurers will generally have a ‘duty of care’ clause so in the instance that you claim, you may need to show that you have taken reasonable precautions.

Can you burn anything on a bonfire?

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that you cannot burn any substance that will release harmful fumes causing pollution to the environment or harm to human health. This includes plastic, rubber or painted items.

You must ensure that the fire is contained and does not escape causing damage or injury to people. It is also an offence if anyone on a public road is ‘injured, interrupted or endangered’ by fire or smoke from your bonfire.

Can you stop a neighbour from having a bonfire?

It is not likely that you would have the grounds to prevent your neighbour from having a bonfire if they do it occasionally and are not burning hazardous material.

However, if the neighbour’s fire is posing a clear risk to the safety of your property this could be reported to the fire service.

Alternatively, if the neighbour is burning hazardous material or causing harm to human health, you can report this to your local council who will investigate and serve a penalty notice if the neighbour is found to be causing a nuisance.

Are there any restrictions on when you can have a bonfire?

There are zero restrictions on when you can have a bonfire as there are actually no laws governing having one.

There are, however, environmental laws relating to any nuisance that your bonfire may cause.

If a neighbour’s bonfire or fireworks causes damage to property, whose insurance should it be claimed on?

If a property is damaged due to fire negligence after a neighbour failed to contain it, take appropriate steps to prevent a fire from escaping or getting out of control or safety light fireworks, your neighbour could be liable for the damage.

If it is your neighbour’s fault then they should claim on their insurance, but you can’t insist they do so. However, when faced with a potential claim for damages the neighbour may choose to get their insurance company involved instead of having to deal with it themselves.

What are the legal implications if I am injured by a firework at a friend’s or family’s party?

Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, an occupier of land owes duty to any visitor to take reasonable care to make sure the visitor is safe on the premises.

So, if someone is hosting a firework party, they should ensure that they are purchasing the fireworks from a licensed supplier, that they read the instructions carefully before use and that they light the fireworks from a safe place.

If you are injured, you may be able to hold the organiser of the event liable.

If a firework malfunctions and you are injured, you may be able to hold the manufacturer liable under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. It is advised for the organiser to keep the receipt, packaging and any instructions.

What legal right do I have if my neighbour is causing a nuisance?

If your neighbour’s bonfire or fireworks are affecting you, you must first raise it with the neighbour organising display to make them aware of the impact the bonfire has on you.

If this doesn’t work, then you may be able to get a court order restricting the neighbour’s ability to have a bonfire.

However, the occasional bonfire is unlikely to amount to a legal nuisance and legal advice should be sought when considering legal action against your neighbour.

If your neighbour’s bonfire or firework display is likely to be hazardous to your health and unreasonably interferes with the enjoyment of your property then you can report them to the local environmental health team. The local authority may then investigate the matter further and serve a penalty notice where appropriate.

What do I do if someone is setting them off in my street late at night? What are my rights and what does the law say?

If you buy fireworks for personal use, you are only allowed to use them on your private property or property where you have consent of the landowner.

It is a criminal offence to set off fireworks in the street or other public places without permission and you can contact the police if someone is breaking the law.

If you would like to set them off in a public place for events, such as for a street party, you will need to obtain express permission from the local authority.

What happens if you break the law?

If you break the law you can receive a prison sentence of up to six months or pay a fine of up to £5,000, as stated under the Firework Act.

Breaching of the act constitutes a criminal offence, however if you cause any damage to property or injury to someone, you may be liable for a civil offence and could be sued for negligence.