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Klein v. Pyrodyne Corp.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was selected to set off public fireworks at a state fairground for an event. During the event, all the fireworks exploded and Plaintiffs were injured. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant. The trial court found in Plaintiffs’ favor regarding the strict liability claim, but against Plaintiff for the product liability claim. Defendant appealed the strict liability claim.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An operator of a public firework display is strictly liable for any harm resulting from the public firework display.

    Facts.

    Pyrodyne Corporation, Defendant, was selected to be the one to set off a public fireworks display at a Washington state fairgrounds on July 4, 1987. Defendant was subject to numerous regulations. One in particular was a requirement that Defendant obtain a $1,000,000 liability insurance policy. During the event, a mortar fired its shell from a horizontal position and it exploded near a crowd of spectators. Danny and Marion Klein (collectively Plaintiffs) were injured. Plaintiffs brought suit against Defendant in state court for products liability and strict liability. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants employees had improperly set up the fireworks display and that other regulations had also been violated. Defendant contended that the misfire was caused by the manufacturer negligence. Nonetheless, because all the fireworks exploded, there was no conclusive evidence or way of determining the cause of the misfire. Both parties motioned for summary judgment. The trial court ruled against Plaintiff on the issue of product liability, but held that Defendant was strictly liable. Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether an operator of a public firework display is strictly liable for any harm resulting from the public firework display

    Held.

    Yes, an operator of a public firework display is strictly liable for any harm resulting from the public firework display

    Concurrence.

    The court properly imposed strict liability on Defendant pursuant to Wash. Rev. Code § 70.77.285. However, the factors the majority relies upon to deem the conduct abnormally dangerous activity do not support liability.

    Discussion.

    Underthe Restatement (Second) of Torts § 519, which Washington has adopted, one is strictly liable, regardless of fault, when one carries out “abnormally dangerous” activities. The court must apply a set of factors to determiner whether the activity is abnormally dangerous such as, the presence of a high degree of risk, the probability that resulting harm will be great, the impossibility of eliminating the risk through reasonable care, whether the activity is of common usage, whether the activity is performed in an appropriate location, and whether the value of the activity to the public outweighs its risk. To be deemed “abnormally dangerous,” the activity must implicate more than one factor, but not necessarily all of the above factors. In this case, the court determines that the first four factors support a conclusion that Defendant’s conduct was abnormally dangerous. The act of setting off fireworks before crowds of people involves a high risk of serious injury. Also, the act of complying with applicable regulations is insufficient to eliminate the risk in its entirety.Likewise, the exhibition of public fireworks is not a common activity. Overall, these facts support a finding that public fireworks displays are abnormally dangerous. Additionally, the court disagrees with Defendant’s contention that the manufacturer negligence is an intervening cause so as to relieve Defendant from liability. The court holds that an intervening party will solely relieve a party from strict liability claim for abnormally dangerous activity if the intervening event was unforeseeable relative to the activity’s risk. In this case, the negligence of a fireworks manufacturer are foreseeable in relation to the risks that are inherent in a public fireworks display. Therefore, the judgment is affirmed.


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