Fireworks on the Fourth of July is an American tradition. It is too bad that American insurance companies are not historically so fond of the tradition.
An example is found in the facts and denial of insurance coverage of Heron v. Phoenix Mutual Fire Insurance Company,1:
For the purpose of celebrating the 4th of July of that year, plaintiff bought a lot of assorted fireworks, which were delivered at his residence on the morning of the 3d, and were shortly afterwards, with his knowledge and approbation, placed in the parlor, for use on the following evening. In some unexplained way, they took fire on the afternoon of the same day, and caused the damages for which this suit was brought.
The defense interposed by the insurance company was that placing the fireworks in plaintiff’s house, with his knowledge and consent, and permitting them to remain there, was a violation of the following clause of the policy, and rendered the latter void: ‘This entire policy, unless otherwise provided by agreement indorsed thereon or added thereto, shall be void * * * if the hazard be increased by any means within the control or knowledge of the insured, * * * or if (any usage or custom of trade or manufacture to the contrary notwithstanding) there be kept, used, or allowed on the above-described premises, benzine, benzole, dynamite, other, fireworks, gasoline, Greek fire, gunpowder exceeding twenty-five pounds in quantity, naphtha, nitroglycerine, or other explosives, phosphorus, or petroleum or any of its products of greater inflammability than kerosene oil of the United States standard (which last may be used for lights, and kept for sale according to law, but in quantities not exceeding five barrels, provided it be drawn and lamps filled by daylight, or at a distance not less than ten feet from artificial light).
Please note the date of this case. Fire insurance was just about the only peril insured for most dwellings. All risk dwelling policies were not yet developed. So, insurance companies often wrote conditions voiding the policy if hazards that caused fire were present in a structure.
The term, "Greek fire," was foreign to me. Turning to Wikipedia for knowledge, I learned that "Greek Fire" has a significant history:
Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect as it could continue burning while floating on water. It provided a technological advantage, and was responsible for many key Byzantine military victories, most notably the salvation of Constantinople from two Arab sieges, thus securing the Empire’s survival.
I wonder what nerdy underwriter knew of "Greek fire" and placed it into an insurance policy. They did not have Wikipedia in 1897.
Returning to Heron, the trial court and jury found for the policyholder. On appeal, the insurer prevailed with the Court holding:
There is no ground for a presumption that the parties here contemplated even the temporary presence of fireworks in the insured building, in the face of an express contract to the contrary. If the policy had contained only the clause relating to increased ‘hazard’ above quoted, the case should have gone to the jury, but the additional prohibitory clause made it incumbent on the court to withdraw it from their consideration… In view of the undisputed evidence in the case, it was error not to do so. Judgment reversed.
Most modern insurance policies do not have fireworks as a condition suspending or voiding coverage. Maybe those from insurance companies want to celebrate July 4th with fireworks as well, and do not put the condition in policies so everybody can join the fun.
Independence Day in the United States is a special day. We all enjoy celebrating our democracy and the luck of us being here — especially when watching fireworks! I will be scalloping in the Gulf of Mexico today. Hope you have a fun Fourth of July as well.
1 Heron v. Phoenix Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 180 Pa. 257, 259-60, 36 A. 740 (1897).