Fireworks celebration injured five, City not held responsible for the accident

Risk Matters - Summer 2024

A local government held a fireworks event on Australia Day in 2018. Unfortunately, during the event, a firework landed amongst spectators and injured five people (with various burns to their bodies). Paramedics and other emergency personnel attended the scene of the accident. The spectators sought compensation for their injuries.

LGIS findings

Initially, it was unclear whether the spectators injured were within or outside the exclusion zone for the firework event.

Until the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS), who were the regulatory body for firework events, finalised their investigation into the incident, the local government was potentially liable for the injuries sustained by the accident as it was responsible for:

  • identifying and enforcing the exclusion zone; and
  • the performance by the fireworks operator of its services.

As to the performance of the operator, when dealing with dangerous activities, the courts can impose a non-delegable duty of care, which means the City’s selection process (or due diligence) and engagement of the operator will not insulate it from its duty owed to the injured spectators.

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Non-delegable duty defined

A non-delegable duty is a legal obligation or duty which cannot legally be delegated or, if delegated, the principal is still liable for said obligation. A non-delegable duty of care imposes a stringent duty on an owner or occupier who authorises or allows a dangerous use of land.


After a considerable investigation period, DMIRS finalised their investigation into the incident, and released their report which found that:

  • The fireworks contractor had correctly calculated the exclusion zone having regard to the type of firework and forecasted wind conditions.
  • The fireworks contractor held the appropriate license and employed skilled employees to carry out the works.
  • The fireworks exploded at a location approximately 160 metres from the firing point and outside the exclusion zone.
  • The fireworks malfunctioned in that it did not detonate at, or near, the apex of its trajectory.
  • The was a possibility of a fault with the internal fusing of the relevant firework.
  • Any fault with the internal fusing of a firework cannot be detected via visual inspection, and is not within the control of a fireworks contractor or operator.
  • The City did not cause or contribute to the incident or the subsequent injuries suffered by the relevant claimants.

Lessons from this case

The above claim illustrates how important and critical it is for members to ensure they implement and comply with stringent due diligence or selection process when engaging independent contractors, even more so when dealing with a dangerous activity (such as fireworks).

Additionally, this case highlights the risk local governments are exposed to when dealing with dangerous use activities. Even if members establish that they undertook a stringent selection process and the firework contractor was negligent (which in this case it wasn’t), the local government would still be (proportionately) liable for the injuries caused to the spectators.

For more information on how to implement risk mitigation strategies to organise successful events, please get in touch with your account manager.

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