How to be Safe and Avoid Legal Fireworks on July4th
By Jack H. Olender, Esq.
The Fourth of July weekend is supposed to be a day of celebration and relaxation but for thousands of Americans each year it is a day of illness and accidents caused by ignorance or carelessness. Besides causing misery, summer mishaps frequently lead to lawsuits. In my thirty years as a trial lawyer, I have represented a number of clients whose Fourth of July weekend turned into a nightmare. Although there is no good time to get sick or injured, holidays such as July 4th are the absolute worst time because hospitals and clinics are frequently understaffed. Fewer staff means greater risk of malpractice.
Make your summer healthier, carefree, and lawyer-free by heeding the following safety tips:
1. Water Sports. As the temperature climbs, so do reported drownings or near drownings in the Washington area. Last year nearly 4,000 American children drowned and another 8,000 to 12,000 suffered permanent neurological damage. Keep yourself and others out of hot water by observing a few simple tips from Infant Swimming Research:
- Do not permit children to swim unsupervised -- not even for a second.
- Do not permit adults to swim alone.
- Never leave a child to supervise another child.
- Never assume someone else is watching your children.
- Prohibit diving board daredevil stunts, dangerous horseplay, and motorboat stunts.
- Wade -- don't dive -- into unfamiliar waters.
- Keep a portable phone by the pool.
- Be prepared for an emergency; maintain rescue equipment at your poolside.
2. Food. In summertime, foods can quickly reach a temperature where bacteria multiply rapidly. Make sure that all foods are handled properly by observing the following federal recommendations for summer food preparation:
- Keep food chilled right up until the time you cook or eat it. Keep food covered and out of direct sunlight, especially meat, eggs, and dairy products such as mayonnaise.
- If food smells, tastes or looks to be tainted, discard it immediately.
- Wash hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry; never put cooked food on a platter that contained raw meat or poultry.
- Cook meats thoroughly.
- Exercise extreme caution at the barbecue; don't wear loose clothes near it.
- Be especially careful with lighter fluid. Do not add it to an already lit fire because the flame can flash up to the container and cause it to explode.
- Supervise children around grills. Keep matches and lighters away from children.
- Demonstrate how to Stop, Drop and Roll in case a piece of clothing should catch fire.
3. Alcohol. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, someone dies in an alcohol-related traffic crash every thirty-two minutes. During holidays such as the 4th of July, drunk driving fatalities are especially frequent. Alcohol also can kill in the swimming pool, on the beach or in a boat. If you serve alcohol, and inebriated guests hurt themselves or others, you may be held accountable by the law. If you choose to serve alcohol, follow a few simple guidelines to protect your guests and yourself:
- Never serve alcohol to those below the legal drinking age.
- Offer non-alcohol alternatives.
- Serve food with alcohol.
- Serve guests one drink at a time.
- Stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends. Offer instead coffee and non-alcohol alternatives.
- Arrange safe rides home for all your guests. Have non-drinkers ready to serve as designated drivers. If necessary, call a cab or make arrangements for a guest who has been drinking to stay the night.
4. The Great Outdoors. Hiking, camping, and other trips off the beaten path require increased vigilance. Crime, overexertion, accidents with camping equipment, and fires are among the chief dangers. Another significant danger is getting lost in unfamiliar terrain. The following Search & Rescue Safety Rules may save your life.
- Do not lead excursions into unfamiliar terrain.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
- Put a note on your car's dashboard (face down) with the time you started, your itinerary, and your estimated time of return.
- Dress in layers. Always pack a rain poncho.
- Each person in your group should carry water, a snack, a whistle, and matches or a lighter.
- If you get lost, find a dry, accessible spot and stay put. Blow your whistle three times at regular intervals to signal for help.
- Never start fires except in designated campgrounds.
- Always check camping equipment before you leave for your excursion.
- Get in good shape before you embark on a demanding hike. Be sure that you and your companions are in good health.
- Do not overexert yourself; drink plenty of bottled water.
5. Fireworks. All of us have been told the stories about loss of sight or hearing caused by stray firecrackers and sparklers. Yet accidents occur each year. Last year an estimated 7,600 people -- many of them children -- were treated for fireworks-related injuries.
Stay safe. Leave fireworks to the professionals. If you must use fireworks and it is legal to do so in your locale, observe the following guidelines from the National Council on Fireworks Safety:
- Always read and follow label directions.
- Have an adult present.
- Buy from reliable fireworks sellers.
- Ignite fireworks outdoors.
- Have water handy.
- Light one at a time.
- Never re-ignite malfunctioning fireworks.
- Never give fireworks to small children.
- Store fireworks in a cool, dry place; dispose of them properly.
- Never throw fireworks at another person.
- Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
Be safe, not sorry. Make your July 4th weekend one that you will want to remember rather than forget.
Washington malpractice lawyer Jack H. Olender was elected Lawyer of the Year by the D.C. Bar Association, and Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Trial Lawyers Association, D.C. He has prosecuted to a verdict or settlement more than ninety cases upwards of a million dollars each.
Copyright © 1997, Jack H. Olender