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Klein v. Pyrodyne Corp.

5/23/1991

e difference between fireworks and dynamite is that with fireworks the public is invited to watch the display and with dynamite the public is generally prohibited from being near the blasting


location. Because detonating dynamite is subject to strict liability, and because of the similarities between fireworks and dynamite, strict liability is also an appropriate standard for determining the standard of liability for pyrotechnicians for any damages caused by their fireworks displays.


II


Public Policy and Strict Liability for Fireworks Displays


Policy considerations also support imposing strict liability on pyrotechnicians for damages caused by their public fireworks displays, although such considerations are not alone sufficient to justify that conclusion. Most basic is the question as to who should bear the loss when an innocent person suffers injury through the nonculpable but abnormally dangerous activities of another. In the case of public fireworks displays, fairness weighs in favor of requiring the pyrotechnicians who present the displays to bear the loss rather than the unfortunate spectators who suffer the injuries. In addition,


he rule of strict liability rests not only upon the ultimate idea of rectifying a wrong and putting the burden where it should belong as a matter of abstract justice, that is, upon the one of the two innocent parties whose acts instigated or made the harm possible, but it also rests on problems of proof:


One of these common features is that the person harmed would encounter a difficult problem of proof if some other standard of liability were applied. For example, the disasters caused by those who engage in abnormally dangerous or extra-hazardous activities frequently destroy all evidence of what in fact occurred, other than that the activity was being carried on. Certainly this is true with explosions of dynamite, large quantities of gasoline, or other explosives.


Siegler v. Kuhlman, 81 Wash. 2d 448, 455, 502 P.2d 1181 (1972) (quoting Peck, Negligence and Liability Without Fault in Tort Law, 46 Wash. L. Rev. 225, 240 (1971)), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 983 (1973). In the present case, all evidence


was destroyed as to what caused the misfire of the shell that injured the Kleins. Therefore, the problem of proof this case presents for the plaintiffs also supports imposing strict liability on Pyrodyne.


III


Statutory Strict Liability for Fireworks


As well as holding Pyrodyne strictly liable on the basis that fireworks displays are abnormally dangerous activities, we also hold that RCW 70.77.285 imposes statutory strict liability. The statute, which mandates insurance coverage to pay for all damages resulting from fireworks displays, establishes strict liability for any ensuing injuries.


An example of a statute which the appellate court has held to be a strict liability statute is RCW 16.08.040, which reads in part:


The owner of any dog which shall bite any person . . . shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.


See Beeler v. Hickman, 50 Wash. App. 746, 750-51, 750 P.2d 1282 (1988). The court in Beeler held that the language of the statute clearly established strict liability for the owner of the dog. Although RCW 70.77.285 does not establish strict liability in the same language as the dog bite statute

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