Holiday Weekends and Property Damage Liability

We all enjoy a warm weathered weekend with friends and family. In most cases, the only concern at barbecues is if the sun is going to stay out all day. But did you ever consider other concerns such as property safety and liability during the dog days of Summer? According to the National Fire Prevention Association, house fires due to barbecuing, holiday decorations and fireworks are more common then we think.

What is the National Fire Prevention Association? The NFPA is the leading information and knowledge resource on fire, electrical and related hazards. According to Wikipedia,(NFPA) is a United States trade association, albeit with some international members, that creates and maintains private, copyrighted standards and codes for usage and adoption by local governments. The association was formed in 1896 by a group of insurance firms.”

Within this article, we will be sharing statistics from the National Fire Prevention Association, which also gives you a briefing of what you should always look out for.

Home Grill Fires

  • July is a peak month for grill fires, followed by June, May and August.
  • Grills that had not been cleaned are roughly one-quarter of property fires.
  • More than one-quarter of grill structure fires started on an exterior balcony or open porch. 10% began when an outside wall caught fire; 5% began with some type of structural member or framing. This is typically due to homeowner negligence, for placing the grill in an unsuitable location.
  • 85% of grills involved in home fires were fueled by gas while 10% used charcoal or other solid fuel.
  • Gas grills were involved in an average of 8,700 home fires per year, including 3,600 structure fires and 5,100 outdoor fires annually. (Leaks or breaks were primarily a problem with gas grills)
  • Charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in 1,100 home fires per year, including 600 structure fires and 500 outside fires annually.

Structural Fires involving Holiday Decorations

  • In 2011-2015, United States fire departments responded to an average of 840 home fires that began with decorations per year.
  • Decoration fires caused an annual average of $11.4 million in direct property damage.
  • More then half (55%) of the December home decoration fires were started by candles.
  • Home Structure Fires that began with Decorations by Leading Causes: Candles at 36%, cooking Equipment at 19%, Electrical Lighting at 10%, Heating Equipment at 10%, Intentional Fires at 10%, Smoking Materials at 10%, Playing with Heat Source at 4%.

Structural Fires and Injury involving Fireworks

  • In 2013, fireworks caused an estimated 15,600 reported fires in the United States, including 1,400 structural fires, 200 vehicle fires, and 14,000 outside and other fires.
  • Two thirds of fires started by fireworks in 2009-2013 were brush, grass or forest fires. However, most of the injuries and property damage resulted from structural fires.
  • Fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires per year, including 1,300 structural fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 16,900 outside and other fires. These fires cause an average of thee deaths, 40 civilian injuries, and an average of $43 million in direct property damage.
  • Each July 4th, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks. Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks – devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death.

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In a 2013 Supreme Court ruling Plumitallo v. County of Nassau, parents of the infant burned in a firework display at the beach on the Fourth of July filed suit against the Village of Bayville seeking to recover damages for personal injuries.

In another Supreme Court Ruling, Leiner v. Howard’s Appliance of Commack, Evelyn Leiner filed suit due to a house fire started by the alleged source of a leaking defective gas barbecue. Leiner’s action involved the manufacture, distributor and retailer of the barbecue, the manufacture of the gas tank and the vendor who filled the tank.

As stated in the introduction, enjoying your holiday weekend is great, but looking out for potential liability is key. Something as simple as grilling food or lighting a firecracker can lead to something unpredictable and on a larger scale. Though situations like this can be avoided, it’s claims such as the above that originate due to the negligence of the homeowner.

Typically, most homeowners’ policies cover situations like these. Checking your insurance policy and contacting your insurance provider is always the best start after a Memorial Day BBQ fail. Contacting your local attorney may also be of help when coming to agreements with your insurance provider.

John Caravella, Esq

John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.

This is a general information article and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. The content above has been edited for conciseness and additional relevant points are omitted for space constraints. Readers are encouraged to seek counsel from a construction lawyer who has experience with Long Island construction law for advice on a particular circumstance.

NFPA Home Grill Fire Report: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/US-Fire-Problem/Home-Grill-Fires

NFPA Structural Fires involving Decorations Report: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/US-Fire-Problem/Decorations

NFPA Structural Fires involving Fireworks Report: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/US-Fire-Problem/Fireworks

Wikipedia Entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Fire_Protection_Association

Plumitallo V. County of Nassau, 109 A.D.3d 652 (2013)

Leiner v. Howard’s Appliance of Commack et al., Respondents, 104 A.D.2d 634 (1984)