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Home insurance can extinguish your fireworks problems

While people across the country, and probably in your neighborhood, will have their own fireworks display, thousands will likely be injured as a result of fireworks on the Fourth of July. How dangerous are fireworks? Here are some statistics.

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  • According to the National Council on Fireworks Safety, about 7,000 injuries were reported in hospital emergency rooms throughout the United States in 2008 (the latest statistics available). That number decreased from the prior year. In 2007, there were roughly 9,800 injuries reported.

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were an estimated 22,500 fires started by fireworks in 2008 (the latest statistics available). They caused roughly $42 million in direct property damage..

If you're planning to host a Fourth of July party that involves dazzling your friends and neighbors with fireworks, do a bit of research. First, make certain you are obeying local laws. Fireworks are not legal in every state. Second, be aware what your home insurance policy covers in the event of a fireworks-related accident.

For example, if you accidentally injure your neighbor while setting off your fireworks, your home insurance policy should pay for medical expenses. This does not apply if you caused the accident intentionally. But coverage limits for no-fault medical expenses are usually fairly low. Depending on the policy, those limits range from $1,000 to $5,000 worth of coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). This coverage typically kicks in if your injured neighbor or friend doesn't have health insurance and seeks to recover his/her medical costs from you.

If your neighbor sues you to recover medical costs, or if you damaged his house, this is when an important part of your home insurance policy kicks in: Your insurance company will generally pay for your legal defense. However, if you burn yourself setting off fireworks, you won't be covered by your home insurance. If a neighbor comes over and injures himself when setting off some fireworks, he is covered.

Fireworks legality

To find out what's permitted in your state, check the American Pyrotechnics Association Web site.

Burning down the house

What happens if your house burns down as a result of fireworks? Again, as long as it wasn't intentional, you're covered for any property damage you may have caused.

However, if possessing or setting off fireworks is illegal in your state, your insurance company may not cover the cost of any damage or injury. Insurance doesn't cover damage resulting from illegal acts.

If you are manufacturing fireworks in your home and there's an accident that injures someone, or causes property damage, you're out of luck. Also, items that are illegal to possess aren't covered if they are stolen or destroyed in a fire. If you aim a bottle rocket at your neighbor, your home insurance policy won't cover any medical expenses because of the intentional nature of your act.

Fireworks safety tips

If you plan your own pyrotechnics display, here are a few safety tips from the National Council on Fireworks Safety, American Pyrotechnics and the Insurance Information Institute.

  • Obey the law. Don't use fireworks that are illegal in your state.
  • Keep your pets away from fireworks. Pets have sensitive hearing and the noise can hurt them.
  • Keep fireworks away from children. Every year children lose fingers in fireworks accidents, and even sparklers burn at up to 2,000 degrees, making them extremely dangerous for children.
  • Safety first. Be sure other adults and children are out of range before lighting fireworks. Never throw or point fireworks at others.
  • Always read and follow the directions for fireworks carefully.
  • Use fireworks outdoors only.
  • Use a flat, hard surface like a driveway. Avoid lighting fireworks on grass or in containers.
  • Use an open area. An open area will present far fewer fire hazards. Keep children at least 30 feet away from where you are lighting the fireworks. Explain to children that fireworks are not toys and can cause the loss of fingers or hands.
  • Take it slow. Light only one at a time.
  • Wear eye protection. Don't put any body part near a lit firework.
  • Don't use malfunctioning items. Never attempt to relight a "dud."
  • Have water close by. Have a fire extinguisher, hose, or bucket of water handy for emergencies. Drop used fireworks into a bucket of water.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."

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