Klein v. Pyrodyne Corporation
810 P.2d 917 (Supreme Court of Washington 1991)
Pyrodyne Corporation (Pyrodyne) is a licensed fireworks display company that contracted to display fireworks at the Western Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington, on July 4,1987. During the fireworks display, one of the mortar launchers discharged a rocket on a horizontal trajectory parallel to the earth. The rocket exploded near a crowd of onlookers, including Danny Klein. Klein’s clothing was set on fire, and he suffered facial burns and serious injury to his eyes. Klein sued Pyrodyne for strict liability to recover for his injuries. Pyrodyne asserted that the Chinese manufacturer of the fireworks was negligent in producing the rocket and therefore Pyrodyne should not be held liable. The trial court applied the doctrine of strict liability and held in favor of Klein. Pyrodyne appealed.
Section 519 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts provides that any party carrying on an “abnormally dangerous activity” is strictly liable for ensuing damages. The public display of fireworks fits this definition. The court stated: “Any time a person ignites rockets with the intention of sending them aloft to explode in the presence of large crowds of people, a high risk of serious personal injury or property damage is created. That risk arises because of the possibility that a rocket will malfunction or be misdirected.” Pyrodyne argued that its liability was cut off by the Chinese manufacturer’s negligence. The court rejected this argument, stating, “Even if negligence may properly be regarded as an intervening cause, it cannot function to relieve Pyrodyne from strict liability.”
The Washington Supreme Court held that the public display of fireworks is an abnormally dangerous activity that warrants the imposition of strict liability.
- Why would certain activities be deemed ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous so that strict liability is imposed?
- If the activities are known to be abnormally dangerous, did Klein assume the risk?
- Assume that the fireworks were negligently manufactured in China. Should Klein’s only remedy be against the Chinese company, as Pyrodyne argues? Why or why not?