Fatal North Carolina (NC) Fourth of July Fireworks Blast Results in Multiple Fines | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Nearly six months after a truckload of professional-grade fireworks exploded in a Ocracoke teachers’ education center parking lot, the company responsible for ensuring the safety of the deadly explosives has been fined by the North Carolina (NC) Department of Labor. In reporting the nearly $45,000 penalty for Melrose South Pyrotechnics of Catawba, South Carolina (SC), on Dec. 12, the Virginian-Pilot noted that failure to properly train and supervise the crew employed to transport and set up the fireworks lead to the deaths of Terry Holland, Lisa Simmons, Charles Kirkland Jr., Mark Curtis Hill.

Martez Holland was also severely burned and injured when, crewmembers inappropriately inserted electric ignition devices into the fireworks. The accident already prompted the North Carolina legislature to propose tighter rules for required inspections and permitting processes for firework displays in the state.

Inspections would not have prevented this tragedy, however. Among the 11 workplace safety violations Melrose South Pyrotechnics was found to have committed were employing inexperienced people to work with explosives, allowing workers to smoke near explosives and not providing on-site supervision to ensure proper handling of the fireworks.

Employers have legal and moral responsibilities to ensure the safety of their employees. These are principles my colleagues and I strive to uphold and which are embodied in the laws and regulations enforced by agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and their state-level equivalents such as North Carolina’s Occupational Safety & Health Division and Department of Justice.

A handful of $2,000 and $5.600 fines like the ones Melrose South Pyrotechnics must pay do not seem sufficient to ameliorate the harm caused by the company’s failure to protect its workers. A more positive outcome may be that North Carolina does stiffen its rules for fireworks so that similar accidents to do not occur again.

Many potential clients call our injury attorneys about on-the-job industrial accidents, and their first question is often, “Can I sue my own employer?” The whole idea of workers’ compensation laws is to provide employees basic compensation for workplace injuries on a no-fault basis. While on worker’s comp, you receive a portion of your regular wages weekly, all or some of your medical billsare covered, and you will receive other benefits depending on the extent and nature of your injuries. You can recover for on-the-job injuries even if you may have been partly at fault; your employer need not have been careless, either. So, the general rule is that in exchange for the workers’ compensation rights, you cannot sue your own employer

Some exceptions do apply, however, but taking advantage of those exceptions is quite complicated.

For example, if you are hurt in a car accident while working, but the accident is the fault of a third party (i.e., not your employer), you can submit a workers’ compensation claim and still pursue a separate negligence lawsuit against the third party. Our injury attorneys regularly handle such third party negligence cases. If we obtain a recovery for the client against a careless third party, any paid-out workers’ compensation insurance benefits normally are reimbursed to the employer’s workers’ comp carrier.

In industrials accidents, an injured employee can recover workers’ compensation benefits, and if a third party company was careless, we can evaluate if a viable claim exists. Chemical explosions , defective or faulty products, electrical fires, or electrocutions often involve services or products of third party companies or their workers. If a third party or its agents or workers are careless, this may be a basis for a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death claim arising from an on-the-job injury.