Did You Suffer Permanent Damage or Disfigurement from a Burn Injury?
Burn injuries are an under-acknowledged trauma that can affect any person, anytime, anywhere. Burn injuries can be caused by heat, cold, chemical or electrical sources, smoke, radiation, or friction, but the vast majority of these injuries occur due to heat from hot liquids, solids, or fire.
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Burn injuries are an under-acknowledged trauma that can affect any person, anytime, anywhere. Burn injuries can be caused by heat, cold, chemical or electrical sources, smoke, radiation, or friction, but the vast majority of these injuries occur due to heat from hot liquids, solids, or fire.
Burns are serious, painful injuries that can change the entire course of a person’s life, possibly resulting in permanent damage and disfigurement or even death. In fact, the American Burn Association identifies burn injuries as one of the leading causes of unintentional injury and death in the United States. Every year, an estimated 450,000 people receive treatment for burn injuries and at least 40,000 of those burn cases are severe enough to require long-term stays in hospitals or burn centers. Sadly, many burn victims who are treated and survive still suffer permanent scarring and lifelong physical disabilities that upset their self-esteem and quality of life. If you or someone you love has been the victim of a burn injury at home, at work or anywhere else, you may be eligible for compensation to cover the cost of your medical expenses and other damages. Contact our consumer advocates at Consumer Justice Foundation today to find out if you qualify for a burn injury claim, and if so, how much your claim may be worth.
Burn Injury Accidents in the U.S.
Burn injuries are characterized by damage to the skin or deeper tissues, primarily caused by heat, and are typically attributed to sun exposure or contact with open flames, scalding liquids, hot objects, electricity, or chemicals. Not only do serious burn injuries tend to be extremely painful, they also have the potential to cause extensive scarring, permanent disability, disfigurement and even death. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, burn victims may suffer internal injuries or extensive skin damage requiring multiple operations or painful skin grafts to repair. Very deep burns are the most dangerous of all and may require amputation. Often, rehab, physical therapy and/or occupational therapy is necessary for recovery, and even then, burn victims may face a serious risk of infection and other potentially life-threatening complications.
Degrees of Burn Injuries
Burn injuries are grouped into different categories based on the severity of the burn. Most burns are classified as first-, second- or third-degree, depending on how deeply the skin has been injured. The higher the degree of the burn, the more severe the injury is, and the more catastrophic the potential health consequences. While most people assume that third-degree burns are the worst burns a person can suffer, burns can also be classified as fourth-degree, fifth-degree or sixth-degree, though these high-degree burns are far less common. Below we describe first-, second-, third- and fourth-degree burns.
First-Degree (Superficial) Burns
The least severe type of burn injury is a first-degree burn. A first-degree burn affects the outermost layer of skin, known as the epidermis, and the burn site may be painful, red, dry, and uncomfortable (think sunburn). First-degree burns are fairly common and are often referred to as “superficial” burns, though that does not mean they aren’t painful.
Second-Degree (Partial-Thickness) Burns
Second-degree burns are more serious than first-degree burns. This type of burn affects both the epidermis and part of the underlying layer of skin, known as the dermis, but the deeper tissues are not affected. Second-degree burns may cause redness, swelling, infection, and blistering at the burn site. The damaged skin may appear shiny and wet and will hurt to touch.
Third-Degree (Full-Thickness) Burns
Third-degree burns, also known as “full thickness burns,” destroy both layers of skin, resulting in a burn site that appears black, white, yellow or brown, rather than red. Third-degree burns tend to be large and skin damaged by such a severe burn will not grow back, which typically means permanent scarring. Unfortunately, even with surgery and skin grafts, third-degree burns often heal slowly and poorly, and the risk of infection is high.
One of the deepest and most serious types of burn is a fourth-degree burn. These burns penetrate all layers of the skin and may also cause irreversible damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves underneath. Fourth-degree burns are typically caused by contact with open flames or caustic chemicals. Depending on the extent of damage to the affected area, these burns may require amputation and can be life-threatening.
Common Causes of Burn Injuries and Deaths
Most people think of burns as external injuries caused by touching an open flame or hot surface, but you can also suffer potentially life-threatening internal injuries from inhaling too much smoke or potentially harmful gases, such as carbon dioxide. Burn injuries from smoke inhalation can cause significant damage to the respiratory system, possibly causing airway obstruction, respiratory failure and respiratory arrest, which can be fatal.
Electrical burns can happen if a person comes in contact with an electric current, either by handling faulty electrical equipment or a defective product, coming in contact with faulty wiring or damaged power lines, swimming in electrified water, or by some other accidental contact with electricity. Electrical burns can cause damage to the skin as well as internal organs, and the higher the voltage, the more severe the damage may be. You can find more information about electrical hazards and electrical burns on our electrical shock and electrocution accidents page.
Thermal burns are one of the most common types of burn injuries. These burns occur when a person comes in direct contact with an open heat source or heated object, such as a fire, hot metal, boiling water, or steam. Scalds are the most common type of thermal burn among children, while thermal burns among adults are typically caused by fire. Thermal burns can damage the epidermis and the dermis and can also cause deep tissue injuries.
Another painful type of burn injury is a chemical burn, which can occur when a strong acid or base comes in contact with soft tissue, such as the skin or eyes. The risk of suffering a chemical burn may be highest among workers who routinely handle hazardous chemicals on the job, but that doesn’t mean chemical burns are restricted to workplace accidents. As you’ll read below, there are plenty of other scenarios in which chemical burns can occur, including swimming in a pool that has been treated with too much chlorine.
Who is at Risk for Burn Injuries?
Older Adults and Disabled Individuals
Older adults are especially vulnerable to burn injuries, as are individuals with disabilities. According to a study of burn injuries in older patients, burns among seniors account for up to 20% of all burn injuries, and patients aged 60 and older currently make up 17% of patients admitted to burn injury centers across the U.S. There are a number of factors that make older adults and disabled individuals more prone to burn injuries, including smoking habits, slower reaction times, sensory impairment, limited mobility, decreased coordination, cognitive decline, and side effects of medications. Unfortunately, older adults are also more likely to develop complications following a burn injury and require hospitalization, and treatment outcomes tend to be worse for this population than for younger adults.
Young children, like older adults, have thinner skin, which makes them especially susceptible to deep burns. Additionally, because children are smaller, the same burn on a child’s body will cover a larger percentage of the skin compared to an adult’s body, which elevates the severity of the injury. There are several other factors that put children in the “high-risk” category for burns, including the fact that they have:
- Little control of their environment,
- Less perception of danger,
- Less ability to escape a dangerous situation on their own, and
- A limited understanding that hot liquids can burn like fire.
The American Burn Association reports that nearly one-quarter of all burn injuries in the U.S. occur in children under the age of 15 and identifies accidental burns and fires as the fifth leading cause of injury deaths for children between the ages of one and four. Like other categories of injuries, there are certain types of burns that are more common among children than adults or seniors. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the most common types of burns affecting children under the age of five and children between the ages of five and ten are flame and scald burns. For adolescents, the most common types of burn injuries are flame and electrical burns. Tragically, statistics show that approximately 75% of all burn injuries affecting children are preventable.
Although children and older adults may be particularly vulnerable to burn injuries, burns can be serious at any age, and any person who comes in contact with a hot surface or object, a live power source, a boiling liquid, an open flame, a caustic chemical, or any other heat source can suffer serious, potentially life-threatening burn injuries, including adults. Among teenagers and adults, the most common causes of burns are:
- Flames and sparks,
- Steam from car radiators,
- Motorcycle exhaust pipes,
- Kitchen and cooking accidents, and
- Scalds from hot tap water.
Not only can these burn injuries harm adult victims physically, they can also have an adverse impact on their mental health and quality of life, which can lead to long-lasting physiological and psychological challenges.
Negligent Acts that May Lead to Burn Injuries
Serious burn injuries can happen anywhere, at any time, and may arise from a job site accident, a defective product, a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, or any other incident for which someone else is liable. The following are some examples of situations in which serious burn injuries can occur as a result of another person or entity’s negligent acts.
Burn injuries happen frequently in the workplace. Construction workers in particular are vulnerable to burns from fires, explosions, chemicals, steam, electricity, or direct contact with a hot material or substance. Although construction site injuries tend to get the most publicity for their frequency and severity, serious burns can happen in any workplace. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that work-related fires and explosions are responsible for more than 5,000 burn injuries every year, and research has shown that 40% of all burn-related deaths are linked to workplace fires and explosions. If you have been burned at work, no matter where you work, you are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for your medical care and lost wages, but you may also have a claim against a third party outside of workers’ compensation.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
We rarely attribute burn injuries to car accidents, but when a motor vehicle is involved in a collision and a fire occurs, the resulting burn injuries can be devastating, if not deadly. To minimize the risk of vehicle fires caused by auto accidents, there are certain fire safety standards that car manufacturers are required to adhere to in terms of vehicle fuel system integrity and the use of flame-retardant materials in vehicle occupant compartments, among other critical vehicle components. If a vehicle crash fire occurs and it is discovered that a defective auto part caused the fire or contributed to the vehicle occupants’ injuries, say by preventing them from extricating themselves from the vehicle, the vehicle manufacturer or auto part maker may be liable for damages.
While motor vehicle fires remain a significant hazard, there are other more common causes of burn injuries that can potentially arise from car accidents, including contact with hot metal, faulty electrical wiring, or steam or hot water escaping from damaged vehicle parts, such as a radiator. In the event of a car accident involving one or more vehicles carrying toxic cargo, accident victims may also be at risk for chemical burns. Any time a driver or vehicle occupant suffers burn injuries in a motor vehicle accident, it is in the injured victims’ best interests to have an expert analyze the accident and determine whether a faulty auto part, a design or manufacturing defect, another driver’s negligence, or some other avoidable factor was the cause of their burn injuries.
Defective products can cause burn injuries if the product malfunctions in any way during use. Depending on the type of product, a defect in the design or manufacturing could expose users to electrical shock injuries, a chemical burn, dangerous fumes, or possibly even a fire. These types of injuries fall under the umbrella of product liability, which means the company that manufactured the defective product, the wholesaler, the retailer, and/or others may be liable for damages if it can be proven that a product defect caused the victim’s injuries.
Gas explosions are another possible cause of life-changing burn injuries. Gas explosions can occur as a result of a product defect (i.e. a faulty gas line, gas stove, gas heater, or propane tank), a motor vehicle accident, gas systems that are improperly installed or maintained, or any other negligent conduct, and filing the appropriate claim for your burn injuries will be dependent on the exact cause of the explosion. The risk of gas explosions may be highest on construction sites and at industrial sites where hazardous materials are stored, but this type of accident can also happen at home, at work, on the road, on public or private property, or anywhere else there are explosive or flammable materials. Sadly, gas explosions and propane tank explosions usually result in catastrophic injuries and fatal burns.
Fires and burns are a major cause of unintentional injury and death occurring in the home, particularly among young children and older adults. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association reports that more than one-quarter (27%) of fires reported between 2014 and 2018 occurred in homes and more than three-quarters (77%) of civilian fire deaths occurring during this period were caused by household fires. There are a number of possible causes of home fires that may be attributed to the negligence of another person, company or entity, such as defective products, electrical system or device failures, faulty appliances or wiring, malfunctioning heating equipment, and gas leaks. Household fires also pose a risk of smoke inhalation, which can be fatal.
Burn injuries that occur on another person’s property may fall under the category of premises liability, which has to do with the duty of property owners and managers to maintain reasonably safe premises free of defective or dangerous conditions. Under premises liability law, property owners assume responsibility for accidents on their property caused by hazardous conditions that they knew or should have known about and failed to correct. Gas explosions, fires, malfunctioning electrical equipment, or exposure to hot liquids or hazardous chemicals are all examples of catastrophic events that can occur on someone else’s property and leave victims with severe or possibly even life-threatening burns. The problem with unsafe premises is that no matter how careful you are personally, if an unreasonably dangerous condition exists on the property, you could be at risk for a serious burn injury.
Swimming Pool Accidents
Drownings are the number one safety concern having to do with swimming pools, hot tubs and other bodies of water, but there are other potential safety risks to consider when spending time in and around pools, including the risk of burn injuries. One of the most common types of burns associated with swimming pools are electrical burns, which can occur any time water and electricity are combined. A swimming pool becoming charged with electricity can occur as a result of any number of electrical hazards, including the following:
- Faulty pool lights
- Absence of ground fault circuit interrupters
- Old electrical wiring
- Pool vacuums that aren’t grounded
- Electrical appliances falling into the water
If electricity from a private pool, public pool or hot tub travels through the water and shocks a swimmer, it may even result in what is known as an electrical shock drowning, where the swimmer becomes incapacitated and drowns.
There are other types of burn injuries that can occur around pools besides electrical burns. Consider, for instance, the powerful chemicals that are routinely used to clean and maintain swimming pools. If the owner or manager of a private or public swimming pool uses too much chlorine in their pool, pool goers may run the risk of suffering chemical burns, eye irritation, rashes, and other harmful side effects from the water. Or, if liquid chlorine is accidentally mixed with muriatic acid, a chemical commonly used to balance pH levels in swimming pools, the resulting toxic chlorine gas could put anyone nearby at risk for respiratory distress or possibly even lung damage.
Boating Fires, Explosions and Burns
Electrical burns and electric shock drownings are also a significant safety concern for those who enjoy boating and engaging in other watersports activities in natural water settings, such as lakes, ponds or the ocean. An electric shock drowning is a risk any time an electric current, say from damaged wiring in the marina, boats hooked up to the dock’s power supply, or another power source, electrifies the water and causes nearby swimmers to become incapacitated and drown.
Deadly fires and explosions are another common cause of catastrophic burn injuries and deaths aboard boats. Boat fires, either on the open water or at a marina, are a significant threat for boaters for three main reasons: one, the fire can spread quickly; two, it may take a long time for assistance to arrive at the boat’s location; and three, there may be no safe place for passengers to evacuate to except into the water, which poses its own safety risks. Most recreational boats are not equipped to detect a fire early, fight it effectively, or ensure that passengers and crew members escape easily. Five common causes of boat fires and explosions include:
- Leaking fuel or gas lines
- Overheated engines
- Poorly wired or overloaded electrical systems
- Cooking accidents
- Faulty installation of batteries
Burn Injury Prevention
Who is Liable for Burn Injuries?
Determining liability in a burn injury case means finding out who is responsible for the victim’s burn injuries and holding that person accountable for the harm they have caused. The following are some examples of the different individuals and entities that may be liable in a burn injury case.
Property Owners and Managers
Property owners, renters and managers are responsible for any burn injuries caused by a defective condition on their property that they knew about or should have known about and failed to correct or properly warn others about. This area of the law is known as “premises liability,” and it has to do with the legal duty property owners and operators owe to those who enter their property. When a property owner fails to provide entrants with a reasonably safe environment that is free from burn hazards, that person may be legally liable for any injuries that occur as a result of such hazards. The following are some examples of defective or dangerous conditions that may exist on private or public property and put entrants at risk for serious burn injuries:
- Scalding hot water
- Faulty wiring
- Defective electrical outlets
- Broken smoke detectors
- Improperly labeled emergency exists
- Unsafe electrical installation
- Unprotected hot surfaces
- Poorly maintained equipment
Employers and Third Parties
If you have suffered a burn injury at work, you need to understand the difference between a workers’ compensation claim and a third-party negligence claim. Workers’ compensation laws in the U.S. bar employees from suing their employers for negligence in the event of a workplace accident, except in special circumstances. Instead, workers who are injured on the job can pursue compensation for their injuries by filing a workers’ compensation claim with their employer’s insurance carrier. However, if there is an outside person or company that caused or contributed to the worker’s burn injuries, the worker may have a valid lawsuit against that third party.
One example of this would be if a worker driving on the job is involved in an accident caused by another driver and sustains serious burns in a vehicle fire. Another example would be if an employee suffers burns when a piece of equipment that was improperly maintained or serviced by an outside contractor malfunctions in the workplace. In either case, the burned worker may be able to obtain additional compensation from the third party beyond what is available under the employer’s workers’ compensation coverage.
An estimated three million people in the U.S. are injured in motor vehicle accidents every year and tens of thousands are killed, in many cases because of the negligence of other drivers. Motor vehicle accidents can result in any number of serious injuries, from broken bones and lacerations to whiplash, spinal cord injuries, soft tissue injuries and more. They can also cause serious burns, and any time burn injuries occur because another driver was negligent, the injured party has the legal right to hold the driver accountable for the harm their negligent actions caused. If a negligent driver causes a motor vehicle accident, which leads to a fire, and you suffer burn injuries in that fire, the driver that caused or contributed to the accident may be liable for your losses.
Equipment and Product Manufacturers
Equipment and product manufacturers have a legal obligation to protect users from harm by ensuring that their products are safe and free of potential hazards that may pose a risk of burn injuries. Vehicle manufacturers also have a duty to protect drivers and vehicle occupants from potentially dangerous heat sources, including fires, and burn injuries caused by damaged or defective vehicle parts. Motor vehicles are equipped with certain safety mechanisms designed to keep vehicle occupants safe in the event of an accident, and when these mechanisms fail and burn injuries occur, the vehicle manufacturer, in addition to the at-fault driver, may be liable for damages for failing to provide a safe product. Similarly, when a defective piece of equipment malfunctions and the user suffers burn injuries as a result, the equipment manufacturer may be at fault for the resulting injuries.
Swimming Pool and Recreational Vessel Owners
Swimming pools, boats and other recreational vessels can be a great way to spend quality time with your friends and loved ones, especially during the summer months. Unfortunately, they can also be inherently dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken to keep everyone safe and minimize potential burn hazards. Say, for instance, a swimming pool owner improperly mixes highly reactive pool chemicals, which leads to a chemical reaction that releases a toxic gas or ignites nearby combustible materials. Or say the owner or operator of a boat neglects to ensure that there are fire extinguishers onboard in case of a fire, or say marina staff fails to conduct a routine safety inspection to ensure its electrical systems are in proper working order. If you or a loved one suffers serious burn injuries in any of these situations or in any other accident caused by someone else’s negligent or malicious acts, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your losses.
What to Do After Suffering a Burn Injury
As you can see, there are many different types of accidents that can result in serious or potentially life-threatening burn injuries. If you have suffered a severe burn in a car accident, electrical accident, fire, chemical spill, or any other type of accident at home, in the workplace, on public or private property, or anywhere else, the first thing you should do is seek immediate medical attention. Serious burns are complex traumatic injuries that can affect the tissues, bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, and immediate emergency medical care may be necessary to prevent complications and death. The sooner you get the medical help you need, the better your chances of recovery.
In addition to obtaining treatment for your burns, you also want to see a healthcare professional to ensure that there is an official record of the accident and your injuries, should you choose to file a legal claim against the liable party or parties. That brings us to the second step you should take after suffering burn injuries: enlisting the help of a knowledgeable burn injury attorney. Pursuing the compensation you deserve for your burn injuries can be complicated, confusing, and time-consuming, so don’t hesitate to seek qualified legal assistance right away after the accident.
Pursuing Compensation for a Burn Injury
How a Burn Injury Lawsuit Can Help
Severe burn injuries can cause serious health consequences that may require extensive medical treatment and long-term care. In some cases, burn injuries are so debilitating that they prevent victims from working and earning a living, which can have a significant impact on their quality of life and ability to support their family. By filing a burn injury lawsuit against the person or party that caused or contributed to their injuries, burn injury victims and their loved ones can pursue damages for:
- Medical bills
- Cost of future medical care
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Lost wages due to missed time at work
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium or companionship
Who Can Sue for Damages?
Any person who suffers a major burn injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or malicious intent has the right to file a burn injury lawsuit against that person for compensation. In the event of a fatal burn injury, the decedent’s loved ones may also have the right to pursue compensation from the at-fault party or parties by filing a wrongful death claim on the victim’s behalf. The individuals who may be able to sue for damages for the loss of their loved one to a fatal burn injury include the decedent’s spouse, partner, child, sibling, or any other close relative who was financially dependent on the victim.
What are the Legal Claims for Burn Injuries?
Personal Injury Claim
A personal injury claim is a type of legal claim injured individuals can pursue against another person or party in cases where that person or party’s negligence, carelessness, or intentional acts caused them harm. In personal injury lawsuits involving burn injuries, the plaintiff (the injured party) bears the burden of proving that the defendant (the accused party) is legally responsible for their burn injuries, based on the following specified elements:
- Duty – The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care,
- Breach – The defendant breached that duty of care by acting or failing to act in a certain way,
- Causation – The defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s accident, and
- Damages – The plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the accident.
Premises Liability Claim
Any person who suffers burn injuries caused by a dangerous or defective condition on someone else’s property may have a premises liability claim against that person. Premises liability covers damages suffered by victims who sustain burn injuries as a direct result of an accident that could have been avoided had the property owner taken reasonable care to provide a safe environment free of serious recognized hazards.
Defective Product Claim
If you have been burned by a defective product, no matter what kind of product it is, and you can show that a defect in the product’s design or construction is what caused your injuries, you may be able to hold the manufacturer responsible for the harm you have suffered. This can include everything from exploding citronella candles to faulty electrical outlets to malfunctioning home appliances. Defective product claims can be complex, but a knowledgeable defective product injury lawyer can help.
Third-Party Negligence Claim
A burn injury that occurs at work may qualify you for damages under a third-party negligence claim in addition to workers’ compensation benefits. If you can show that another party other than your employer (i.e. the manufacturer of a defective piece of equipment or another driver in a work-related car accident) caused or contributed to the burn injuries you sustained in a workplace accident, you may have grounds to file a claim against that party.
Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim is a special type of lawsuit that can be filed by the family of a person who died from burn injuries caused by negligence. Wrongful death claims can help the decedent’s loved ones recover additional compensation for loss of consortium, emotional distress, funeral and burial costs, and other damages related to the victim’s death.
Injury Liability Lawsuits
Finding the Right Burn Injury Attorney
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Burns are traumatic injuries requiring immediate medical treatment and intervention. If you have suffered burn injuries because of someone else’s negligence or wrongful conduct, your ability to recover fair and timely compensation from the person or party who caused or contributed to your burn injuries depends on a number of factors, including the cause of the burns, the degree of injury, the available evidence, and the quality of your legal representation. Finding the right attorney to represent your best interests in the aftermath of a serious burn injury accident is crucial to the success of your claim. A good attorney will be able to determine what caused the burn injury (i.e. a defective product, a work-related accident, or another type of negligent act), who is liable, and how much your claim may be worth, so you can focus your attention on your recovery. For more information about pursuing compensation for serious burn injuries, contact our consumer advocates at Consumer Justice Foundation today.