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Burn Injury Lawsuits

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Settlements, compensation and hiring a burn injury lawyer

The skin is the largest organ of the body, providing protections and functions which are critical to survival. A serious burn injury can be life-threatening and life-altering. According to the American Burn Association, more than 500,000 people are treated for burn injuries every year. Electricity, fire, hot liquids, chemicals and radiation exposure are just some of the causes of burn injuries.

Minor burns are usually treatable with basic first aid, but serious burn injuries can leave behind a lifetime of pain, scarring, disfigurement and disability. Accordingly, burn injury settlements can be sizeable. If you or a loved one has suffered a burn due to someone else's negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Even if you don't think there is anyone to blame for the injury, it is important to consult a personal injury attorney to make sure your legal rights are protected.

Burn Injury Liability

Defective household and industrial products, flammable materials, a wreck in an automobile involving drunk driving, structural fires, gas explosions, workplace accidents and faulty electrical wiring are some of the most common causes of burn injuries. Frequently these accidents are the result of one or more parties' negligent or criminal acts. If someone else's action is partly or fully responsible for a burn injury, a legal claim may be filed for the following types of damages:

Prevention of Burn Injuries at Home

The best way to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from the devastating effects of burn injuries is prevention. The following is a list of simple steps you can take to create a safer home environment for you and your family:

  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of the home and near all sleeping quarters. Make sure to test the alarms on a monthly basis and replace the batteries as recommended.
  • Develop and practice an escape plan that includes at least two ways out of every room and a central outdoor meeting spot.
  • Adopt safer cooking practices such as using the back burners, and take special care to keep young children away from the stove.
  • Set your water heater thermostat to no more than 120 degrees.

Specific Damages. If you have suffered a burn injury you may be entitled to recoup medical expenses, rehabilitation expenses, lost income (past and future), attendant care and other expenses related to the burn injury.

General Damages. A burn injury lawyer will also help you seek compensation for general damages, which are damages that cannot be determined using bills, paychecks and the like. Examples of general damages you may be entitled to following a burn injury include compensation for pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.


Wrongful Death Damages. Additionally, family members who have lost a loved one due to a burn injury may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Damages for wrongful death may include funeral expenses, medical expenses, past and future earnings the decedent would have provided his loved ones if not for the wrongful death, and the loss of advice, care, comfort and companionship the deceased would have provided had he or she lived.

Punitive Damages. If the defendant's conduct was particularly heinous, punitive damages may also be awarded in both personal injury and wrongful death cases.

If you or your loved one has suffered a burn injury, you may be able to recover damages from one or more defendants based on legal theories such as negligence, products liability, failure to warn, and premises liability. Contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more about the laws in your state.

Burn Injury Classification

Burns are classified by degree (first, second, third or fourth degree). Classification, severity (minor burn or major burn) and treatment are determined based on the type of burn, depth of penetration, size of burn and area of the body affected.

Type of Burn. There are several types of burn injuries, including thermal, electrical, chemical and radiation burns. Hot metals, scalding liquids, flames, steam and other external heat sources cause thermal burns. Acids, bases, detergents, or solvents that come into direct contact with the skin produce chemical burns. An electric current passing through the body may leave electrical burns. Other burn mechanisms include radiation, ultraviolet light, friction and cold.

Scald Burns

The American Burn Association estimates that 32 percent of burn center admissions are due to scald injuries. Scald injuries occur when steam or hot liquid comes into contact with the skin.

There have been several notorious burn injury settlements related to scald injury. In 1994, McDonald's was sued after an elderly woman spilled her coffee at the drive-thru window and sustained third-degree burns of the groin, inner thighs and buttock due to a defective product. In 2006, Starbucks settled a burn injury claim for $310,000 after a woman was scalded by a cup of coffee that fell on her foot.

If you or a loved one suffered a scald burn, you may wish to speak with a personal injury attorney who can investigate the cause and help you obtain a full and fair settlement for the injury.

Depth of Burn. First degree or superficial burns (most commonly sunburn) affect only the top layer of skin (epidermis) and might cause redness, pain and swelling. Second degree or partial thickness burns involve the first and second layer of skin. Severe pain, swelling, and blisters are typically observed. Third degree and fourth degree burns, all known as full thickness burns, involve all layers of skin and, in some cases, fat, muscle and bone tissue. Deep partial thickness and full thickness burns may appear white, gray, or black and charred depending on the type of burn and extent of injury. They are usually painless because the nerves are destroyed.

Size of Burn. Generally, first degree burns and superficial second degree burns on less than 10 percent of the total body surface area (TBSA) are considered minor burns. Partial thickness burns that are deeper and/or covering more than 10 percent of TBSA, and third degree or full-thickness burns covering more than 2 to 5 percent of the TBSA, are considered major burns. It should be noted that the threshold for seriousness of injury with respect to TBSA is lower for children.

Location of Burn. Burns involving substantial portions of the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or a major joint, are considered major burns.

Burn Injury Treatment

Patients with any question as to the severity of their burns should see a doctor immediately for treatment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, basic first aid is usually appropriate for minor burns. Specifically, they recommend that minor burns be cooled (preferably with running water or cold compresses) and covered loosely with sterile gauze. In many cases, pain can be managed with over-the-counter medication. Minor burns generally heal in a few days without additional treatment, but slight scarring and/or changes in pigmentation may remain.

Patients with moderate to severe burns are usually hospitalized. Emergency care includes cooling, cleaning and covering the burns. Hospitalization may be necessary to manage complications such as pain, shock, fluid loss, nutritional support, infection and respiratory distress. After initial treatment, some burns can be cared for on an outpatient basis. If the patient has a major burn and/or other factors are present such as smoke inhalation or significant accompanying injuries (for example, fractures), he or she will likely be transferred to a specialized burn injury treatment center. Moderate burns take weeks to heal and more severe burns can be fatal.

Compression therapy, skin grafts, plastic surgery and other treatments may also be used to help minimize scarring, contractures and other disfigurement associated with major burns. Patients may also need physical and occupational therapy to maximize their mobility and function. Often, psychotherapy is recommended to help with depression associated with the injury.

Compensation for Burn Injuries

The physical, emotional and financial consequences of a burn injury can be devastating for both the patient and his or her family. If someone else's action (or inaction) has played a role in your burn injury, you may wish to consult with a personal injury lawyer to learn about your legal rights, as well as possible compensation for your injuries. There are statutes of limitations (deadlines) in personal injury lawsuits that must be strictly adhered to, so it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible.