When a person suffers a catastrophic burn injury because of someone’s negligence or malicious intent, that person has the right to seek compensation under the law. However, as with any type of injury case, it is difficult to know how a burn injury case will resolve or how much a victim will receive. Deciding if a claim is worth pursuing comes down to the extensiveness of the injury, the severity of damages, and the evidence available.
What is a Burn Injury?
Each year, thousands are killed and millions are treated in emergency rooms for burns from fires, explosions, and exposures. Most burn injuries happen at home, and sadly, most victims are young children. Common sources of these burns include scalds, chemicals, motor vehicle fires, electrical fires, house fires, water heaters, explosions, work-related accidents, cigarette lighters, and other flammable materials.
The Types of Burn Injuries
Burns are categorized based on their severity. The higher the level of the burn, the costlier it will be for the victim, and the more painful it will be to recover. The more severe burns often require multiple reconstructive surgeries and years of pain and suffering.
- First Degree Burns – First-degree burns are considered superficial. While they are “superficial,” that does not mean they are not painful. First degree burns involve reddening and no blisters – like a sunburn.
- Second Degree Burns – Second-degree burns destroy the outer layers of the skin, but avoid the deeper tissues. These can involve painful blisters and infection.
- Third Degree Burns – Third-degree burns are by far the worst type of burn, where all layers of the skin are destroyed. These burns need skin grafting and can include years of agonizing pain, surgeries, and high risks of infection. A third-degree burn also carries a high risk of death because it is a full thickness burn, which can affect the tendons, nerves, and most of the skin. Permanent scarring is guaranteed with third-degree burns.
The “Where” and “How” Play a Role in Your Burn Injury Case
Where and how the burn occurred is critical information that helps your attorney decide if the other party is liable, the level of negligence, and the potential settlement value. Your attorney must also determine the cause of the burn, such as a defective product, work injury, an intentional act, or another type of negligent act.
The Elements of a Burn Injury Case
To succeed in a burn injury case, you hold the burden of proof as the plaintiff. That means that you must provide sufficient evidence to show that the defendant was responsible for the accident that led to your burn injury.
To do this, you must have three elements proven by a preponderance of the evidence:
- Duty – You must prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care. For example, if you are an employee and the injury happened at work, the employer has a duty of care to provide you with a reasonably safe work environment.
- Breach of Duty – The individual responsible for your injury breached his or her duty of care. For example, an employer who negligently fails to correct unsafe working conditions that lead to a burn or fire in the facility.
- Causation – Even if you can establish duty and breach of duty, you must equally prove that the breach caused your injuries. If the breach is unrelated to the incident that burned you, then you likely do not have a case.
Common Negligent Acts that Lead to Burn Injuries
Burn injuries can happen for a variety of reasons. Not all burn injuries are the result of negligence. However, some common causes of burn injuries that stem from negligent acts include:
- Chemical Burns – Chemical burns do not always show up immediately after exposure. Some burns start from inside and slowly work their way out. These burns can lead to severe tissue damage and require extensive treatments.
- Defective Products – A defective product could have an electrical shock, ignite, cause a fire, or create a chemical burn. These injuries fall under product liability which means the manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer could be held liable for the injuries if the victim can prove the design or manufacturing of the product was defective.
- Electrical Burns – Electrical burns occur from faulty wiring, product malfunctions, and other electrical failures.
- Fumes – Fumes, such as propane or gas, can ignite and lead to catastrophic fires.
- Gas Explosions – Gas explosions can happen at home, work, or on a construction site. These are often catastrophic and can lead to fatal burns.
- Scalding – Scalding occurs when a person’s skin meets hot water or steam. Toddlers and elderly persons are at higher risk for these types of injuries.
- Household Fires – Whether caused by accident, arson, or product defect, household fires account for a clear majority of the burns seen in emergency rooms across the United States.
- Industrial Accidents – Industrial accidents can include hazardous materials, chemical spills, explosions, and other construction accidents. This is the second leading cause of fires in the United States.
- Motor Vehicle Fires – Motor vehicles can ignite from faulty components, especially when safety mechanisms are defective and the vehicle is involved in a high-speed impact.
- Smoke and Heat Inhalation – A person does not have to suffer burns on the outside of their body to be a burn victim. In fact, smoke and heat inhalation can be damaging (typically fatal) and occurs when a person inhales super-heated air in a fire.
Common Compensation in a Burn Injury Case
Burn victims require extensive, ongoing treatments that typically include skin grafts and restorative surgeries.
Skin grafting is a surgical procedure that takes healthy tissue from a donor or elsewhere on the victim and replaces the burnt and damaged tissue. Skin grafts have two purposes:
- Functional: Functional grafts are used to restore the body to normal function, such as rebuilding portions of the arm, face, and other areas affected by the burn.
- Cosmetic: Cosmetic grafts are used to restore disfigurements – such as restoring a victim’s face after severe burn trauma.
Not only are skin grafts extremely painful, but they are expensive. These procedures are done in various stages, with the victim undergoing multiple surgeries. An extensive hospital stay is typically required with these procedures as well, which costs thousands. If the victim is a child, they will require skin grafts as they continue to grow until they make a full recovery.
In addition to the cost of medical treatments, burn victims often suffer emotional and physical trauma. While no amount of compensation can truly make up for the suffering the victim must endure, common compensation in these types of cases includes:
- Medical Expenses – Includes hospitalizations, surgeries, treatments, therapy, medications, medical equipment, and all follow-up appointments.
- Travel Expenses – To and from specialized surgeons and burn care centers.
- Lost Income – Countless hour of work are often missed during recovery for a victim or their child. Some victims are permanently disabled and can never return to work – requiring a lifetime of compensation.
- Pain and Suffering – While no amount of money makes up for the emotional, mental, and physical anguish a burn victim suffers, attorneys try to ensure their clients receive enough compensation for this suffering.
- Other – Depending on the case, a victim may receive other compensation, such as punitive damages.
Factors that Affect Burn Injury Compensation Amounts
Compensation in a burn injury case is not predetermined. No two cases, even with similar types of burns, will have the same amount of compensation. This is because individualized factors can influence the overall payout.
There are three critical factors that play a role in determining total compensation.
The Extent of the Physical Harm
The skin is the human body’s largest organ; therefore, any injury to this organ is detrimental. Second and third-degree burns can dramatically affect the human body’s ability to sense or even regulate body temperature. It can also lead to chronic conditions, such as cellulitis, urinary tract infections, and respiratory infections.
The extent of the physical harm to the victim varies greatly from case to case, and will be a big factor when determining compensation.
The Extent of Financial Harm
The extent of financial harm is also important because this will determine general damages for the victim. The more surgeries and the longer the victim will require treatment, the higher the settlement value. Likewise, permanent disfigurement and limited ability to earn a living in the future will increase the settlement value – as opposed to a victim who is able to readily return to work.
The Level of Negligence that Caused the Burn
Lastly, the reasons for the injury will determine how high the settlement gets. When burns are caused by someone’s direct act or gross negligence, the settlement might be higher, because the judge or jury could award the victim punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed specifically to punish the defendant and serve as a public example to others.
How Do You Start the Burn Injury Lawsuit Process?
Filing a burn injury lawsuit is complex, and requires extensive knowledge of tort law and burn injuries. Therefore, it is best that you consult with an injury attorney.
Victims have enough on their plate trying to recover from a burn injury. An attorney is there to serve as an advocate. They handle insurance companies, gather evidence, and negotiate a settlement while their clients focus on recovering.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a fire or suffered extensive burn injuries, contact Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call 866-479-7909 or contact us online to get started.