Burn accidents are quite common in the United States, generating thousands of personal injury lawsuits each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that burns and fires are the third leading cause of fatal injuries in a home. In 2011, 2,640 people (not counting firefighters) died in fires and another 13,350 were injured, although more people were injured by smoke and toxic gases in fires than by burns.
The principal cause of deaths related to fire is the smoke, while cooking is the most common source of home fires. More home fires occur during the winter, and the 37% of home fire injuries occur in residencies that do not have smoke alarm. Additionally, fire and burn injuries cost approximately $7.5 billion every year.
Different Type of Burns
In a personal injury case, burns are classified into four different categories according to their severity:
First Degree Burn
First-degree burns are the least severe, but they can still be very painful. They usually cause swelling and redness and only affect the outer layers of the skin, which is called epidermis. Most sunburn falls into this category. This type of burns can be considerate serious if it occurs in a part of the body that is particularly vulnerable. If this type of burn deserves a settlement, the agreement is likely to be low.
Second Degree Burn
Second-degree burns go beyond the top layer of the skin, damaging the deeper layers, called dermis. Also sometimes called “partial thickness” burns, they are often separated into two categories of superficial or deep, although both types generally heal on their own. Second-degree deep burns are generally white and dry and can cause scarring.
Third Degree Burn
Third-degree burns are the most serious and can cause death or permanent scarring, disfigurements, and disabilities. These burns are deep enough to damage muscles and other soft tissues under the dermis layer of the skin. They may appear charred or leather-like, and may be black, brown, red, or yellow. Due to the number of nerve endings that are damaged, the third-degree burns are sometimes not as painful immediately as more superficial burns.
Fourth Degree Burn
Fourth-degree burns are the most life-threatening and generally go deep enough to damage the bone. In these cases, the skin cannot be recovered, and the burned arms or legs are amputated.
Obviously, the highest results are for damage incurred by third and fourth-degree burns.
In addition to fires, burns can occur as a result of hot liquids or scalds. There was a famous case of personal injury of a woman who was burned for coffee at a McDonald’s restaurant. For this reason, from a legal rather than a medical point of view, burns are also classified by their origin:
- Minor burns are the result of some kind of light, such as sunlight, tanning bed, etc.
- Chemical burns come from exposition of dangerous substances.
- Radiation burns come from exposition of some type of radiation, such as nuclear.
- Thermal burns are the most common, as they are caused by excessively hot flames or liquids or steam.
Burn Injuries Lawsuits
Determining the causality for burn injuries can be difficult, as the causes of burns can be many. Therefore, experts should be called to investigate the accident site, speak to witnesses, and examine any products that have been involved.
The injured party can be sure that a particular person or organization was at fault for the accident, but there may be a dispute over who should pay the medical bills and damages. These expenses can be exorbitant and can include:
- Hospitalization and long-term medical care.
- Nursing care at home (temporary or permanent).
- Reconstructive surgeries.
- Lost wages (including possible future lost salaries) or loss of profession.
Both parties will contact experts to conduct investigations, and their reports may disagree. When that happens, the case could go to trial, where the judge or a jury will decide who is at fault and how much the injured party (demandant) will receive. When guilt is not disputed, a settlement is usually reached. In that situation, the argument is less about who is responsible and more about the amount of money that will be paid to cover the costs of the injuries. Negotiations can take a substantial amount of time for resolve.
Here are some examples of bodily burn injury cases and the parties who were allegedly at fault:
- A mother sued the owners of the building when her baby died in a fire. She felt that the building did not provide fire extinguishers as required by regulations and did not provide an adequate way for residents who leave in upper floors to escape from a fire. The owners paid her a settlement for her son’s “wrongful death”.
- A hotel customer got burned in the shower because the water system in the building was getting excessively hot. The hotel, of course, paid the customer’s injuries.
- A student was burned when the fraternity members threw a firecracker into his room during the night. The fraternity house had to pay its damages.
- An inspector tested pipes at a refinery and burned with very hot oil when one of the tubes broke. While wearing protective clothing, his face, hands, and feet were severely exposed and burned, requiring many surgeries. Workers’ compensation insurance paid his claim.
- An actress suffered third-degree burns to the face and body when performing a stunt where she breathed fire. The film company was responsible for her injuries.
- A defective paintball gun exploded in a child’s hands during a paintball game, causing severe burns. The manufacturer of the paintball gun paid a settlement to the boy’s family, as well as what is called a “structured settlement”, in which the boy receives a certain amount of money on a schedule for the rest of his life.
- A bar kept an open fire in its yard, and a customer fell on it, suffering burns. The restaurant settled with the customer for his injuries and damages.
- A worker suffered burns when a defective machine exploded in the workplace. The machine manufacturer was found to be the main culprit, while the employer was also found to be negligent in failing to perform proper maintenance and testing the machine in the event of malfunction.
- A lady suffered chemical burns and her hair loss during the treatment at a hair salon, and the salon paid her medical expenses.
Due to the complexity of burn cases, people injured in fires, explosions, or scald incidents are recommended to hire a law firm with experience in personal injury burn claims.
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