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Burn Injury Accident FAQs

According to the American Burn Association, over a million moderate to severe burn injuries happen every year in the United States, many resulting from others' mistakes and negligent actions. Many people are hurt due to an employer's negligence or another motorist causing an auto accident.

A personal injury lawyer from our law firm understands how a burn injury can have a financial impact on the household and takes emotional, physical, and mental tolls on the victim. 

A personal injury lawyer with experience in burn injury cases answered some of the most common burn injury FAQs (frequently asked questions) below.

What is a Burn Injury?

Exposure to radiation, sunlight, electricity, chemicals, and heat can damage body tissue, resulting in a burn. Additionally, exposure to steam, hot liquids, gases, flammable liquids, and starting a fire could lead to a scalding injury, burn, or inhalation injuries when inhaling smoke.

Medical science generally identifies burns in three categories including:

  • First-degree burn injury where only the outer layer of skin’s damage, like radiation burns, steam burns, and sunburns, and minimal pain levels
  • Second-degree burn injury that damages the skin’s surface and under layers
  • Third-degree burn injury damaging or destroying the skin’s deepest layers and underlying tissue

Nearly immediately, a burn can begin to blister, swell, and scar that damaged tissue. If the burn is extensive, the victim may experience shock or death. In time, burn injuries may cause skin tightness

Burn victims are highly susceptible to infection due to the damage to the skin’s protective barriers. Treatment is often extensive. Skin injury burn damages require antibiotic medications and intravenous-administered nutrition and fluids. 

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What Percentage of Burn Injuries Are Considered Life-Threatening?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a burned area covering more than 25% of the victim’s body surface area requires immediate IV (intravenous) fluids to ensure they maintain the total body water required for survival. 

Burn specialists know that an injured patient with burns exceeding 30% of their body could be fatal. However, recent medical technology advancements have lowered the death rate in patients suffering burns over half of their bodies.

Even people with burns over 90% of their body surface can often survive with permanent scars and impairments.

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What Is the Primary Goal of Nursing Care during the Emergent Phase after Burn Injury?

In the moments following a burn patient entering an emergency room, the nurse would begin the resuscitative medical team’s burn management. The nursing team must focus on the victim’s immediate and possibly fatal condition and assess the burns to begin developing a treatment plan.

The nursing team must always be concerned about the patient’s potential for edema (swelling) formation and hypovolemic shock. Within twenty minutes after the accident, the affected capillaries could shift fluid and electrolyte levels from the body’s vasculature (vascular system) to the interstitial tissue.

Hypovolemic shock may develop quickly when the body loses vascular volume, necessitating sufficient fluid replacement.

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How Do You Treat Burn Injuries?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, minor burns are easily treated at home and heal completely in a few weeks. However, moderate and severe burns require immediate first-aid followed by a comprehensive wound assessment to ensure adequate treatment is provided.

Treatment typically includes the use of medications and wound dressing changes, followed by therapy and surgical procedures. The doctor typically treats the burn using pain control methods, drugs to prevent infection, and surgical procedures to excise necrotic (dead) tissue.

Even with the best medical treatment, the damaged area could begin the scar and restrict body function. The burn specialists might recommend covering large wounds with skin grafts taken from cadaver donors or another area of the patient’s body.

In addition to medical treatment, physical and occupational therapy, and surgical procedures to assist breathing, graft wounds, and reconstruct damaged tissue, the patient might require emotional support to handle their life-altering changes.

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How Can You Prevent Burn Injuries? How Critical is a Burn Injury?

There are practical preventative steps to avoid being burned, scalded, or killed through exposure to smoke, fire, and heat. These tips include:

  • Stay alarmed – Every building structure, including a residential home or office building, must install and maintain smoke alarms on each floor in nearly every room, especially where family members sleep. To ensure the family’s safety, test each smoke alarm monthly and change the batteries when possible.
  • Develop an escape plan – Develop a fire escape plan and practice the route. Involve the children during the planning process and ensure that each family member has unique ways to get out of each room. The plan should include an essential meeting place outdoors if a fire occurs.
  • Use safe cooking methods – The best cooking practices help protect the family from an unexpected fire when the stove is unattended. Ensure that every child is supervised or restricted from using the oven, stoves, and microwave ovens.
  • Monitor the water heater’s temperature – building code regulations instruct households to set their water heater thermostat to no more than 120°F to avoid scalding injuries. Keeping the temperature low ensures that an infant or small child is never exposed to too hot water. Instead, maintain a consistent temperature setting throughout the home and test tap water when possible.

Every critical burn injury requires immediate medical care. However, it is often challenging, even for a medical professional, to determine if a burn is at a critical stage.

Critical burns are often life-threatening, disabling, and disfiguring. A critical burn can be superficial, but affecting specific body parts or a large body surface area.

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How Many Degree Classifications Are There for Burn Injuries?

Burn specialists typically categorize burns by the extent and damage of the harm using “degrees” as a first-, second-, and so on. First-degree burns are minor, and 5th° burns are often catastrophic. These degrees include:

  • First-degree – A minor first-degree burn injury only affects the skin’s outer layer, like a mild sunburn, blister, or other heat exposure. Typically, victims with first-degree burns rarely have long-term damage to the affected area.
  • Second-degree – A moderate second-degree burn injury typically damages the skin's dermis (underlying) layers, appearing swollen, red, wet, or shiny. At this stage, the burn will likely blister and hurt when touched. Superficial second-degree burns typically damage the dermis layer and do not cause scarring. Deep partial-thickness second-degree burns are more severe, causing permanent skin color changes
  • Third-degree – This full-thickness burn injury usually destroys the skin’s two upper layers, causing the skin to appear yellow, white, brown, or black. Usually, third-degree burns have only minimal pain because the nerve endings have been damaged.
  • Fourth-degree – Burn specialists identify fourth-degree burns as the most severe life-threatening burn, destroying every skin layer, and killing tissue, tendons, muscles, and bone.
  • Fifth-degree – Typically, a fifth-degree burn injury surpasses fourth-degree burns when the ligaments and muscle layers have burned away, leaving charred bone, destroying skin and muscle, and loss of function.

Every burn degree can worsen over time as the injury spreads. The injury can also cause significant complications, where joint and bone problems arise, or infection begins to develop.

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What Age Groups Are at Highest Risk of Burn Injuries?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), specific society segments are more at risk of suffering a burn injury than others. Contributing factors to a burn could include:

  • Gender – Women and girls have a slightly higher rate of suffering a death from a burn than males due to their exposure to open flames that could ignite their loose clothing
  • Age – Statistically, younger adult women and children are more vulnerable to being burned than men. Many burn accidents involving children were due to improper adult supervision. Children four years of age and younger are twice as likely to suffer a burning death than others.
  • Other risk factors – Other contributing factors that increase the potential for burns include the burn patients' occupation, especially those exposed to fire, improper safety measures, overcrowding, smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to chemicals, and the use of paraffin (kerosene).
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How Do Burn Injuries Cause Hyperkalemia?

Many patients with electrical burns are at risk of developing hyperkalemia when red blood cells are destroyed and metabolic acidosis is present. Typically, the patient will develop renal failure.

Elevated potassium levels in the bloodstream cause hyperkalemia. If left undiagnosed and untreated, a severe case could cause fatal abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

Unfortunately, diagnosing high potassium levels is often challenging because there are few, if any, symptoms. However, the burned patient may experience an irregular, weak or slow pulse, nausea, slowing or stop heartbeat, irritability, muscle weakness, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and numbness, in the feet, legs, hands, or arms.

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Which Type of Burn Injury Requires Skin Grafting?

Doctors will often recommend skin grafting for full-thickness and deep second-degree burns to ensure a quicker healing process and minimal scarring. 

The surgeon will perform skin grafting by:

  • Removing injured tissue
  • Choosing a donor site or healthy skin is removed from the burned patient and used to cover the affected burned area
  • Harvesting the graft from the other body part
  • Performing surgical wound cleansing and securing the skin graft in place to begin the healing process.
  • Avoiding any movement to the graft-area will ensure the skin becomes fully secured to the new site. Throughout the immobilization period, the body will begin developing new blood vessels. After about one week, the doctor will recommend the patient undergo tub baths and exercise therapy programs to restore their everyday activities.

Doctors often use human cadaver skin (Homograft, allograft) as a temporary covering before replacing the cadaver skin with the victim’s skin's permanent placement. The skin is typically secured using surgical staples or nylon/silk thread sutures removed when the skin graft has become stabilized.

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What is the Percentage of Burn Patients Who Die within Associated Inhalation Injury?

According to the American Burn Association, more than 2700 people die every year in residential fires, where upwards of 80% were killed through smoke inhalation injuries and burns to the respiratory system.

Most burn victims that die early after the accident suffered inhalation injuries leading to acute respiratory distress syndrome or respiratory failure. Not all fatal inhalation injuries involve skin burns, although they often occur together.

Many people die from smoke inhalation where the upper airways are burned through heat or hot soot. Additionally, the noxious gases released during the fire could contain hydrogen cyanide or carbon monoxide when the combustion of plastics, rubber, cotton, and furniture release key tones, acids, hydrocarbons, ammonia, and chlorine gas.

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What Are the Common Causes of Degree Burns?

Most commonly, victims of a burn were exposed to an open flame where the heat or direct contact with the fire lead to a mild to a severe burn. However, other factors could cause burns, including:

  • Friction – Any hard surface area rubbing against the skin could create friction burn from heat and scraping (abrasion). Bike riders and motorcyclists are susceptible to friction burns when a body part drags along the asphalt or concrete in an accident.
  • Cold – Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite, freezing the skin and causing significant damage or death to the tissue. Direct contact with a cold object for an extended period can also lead to a severe cold-related burn.
  • Thermal – Exposure to a very hot object or surface can immediately raise the skin’s temperature that kills skin cells. Thermal burns are often the result of touching scalding liquids, steam, scorching metal, and flames.
  • Radiation – Usually, radiation burn is caused by exposure to the sun (sunburn/ultraviolet light). However, other radiation exposure sources can also cause burns, including cancer-treating radiation therapy and x-ray technology.
  • Chemical – Exposure to detergents, solvents, and strong acids could cause chemical burns and severe tissue damage.
  • Electrical – Contacting electrical current through exposed wires, power lines, or other electrical sources could create an electrical burn, electrical shock, or electrocution.
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How Much Compensation Do You Get for a Burn Injury?

Numerous contributing factors and the extent of burns are unique in every burn injury case. Determining the value of a compensation claim and how much an injured person or a surviving family member can receive in a settlement or jury trial award depends on the physical, emotional, and psychological scars and the extent of damage the accident causes.

However, on average, burn injury settlements can resolve for as little as $10,000 to $15,000. Million-dollar settlements are not uncommon in a catastrophic burn injury case involving third-degree burns. The defendant’s insurance company pays compensation to the burn injury plaintiff to cover various expenses, including hospitalization costs, medical treatment expenses, rehabilitation for nerve damage, physical and occupational therapies, pain-and-suffering.

A burn injury lawyer will spend time discussing your case with you, whether you were injured in a car accident or through chemical burns, usually in a free consultation. Your personal injury attorney will work for your compensation.

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How Do You Prove Negligence to Resolve a Burn Injury Claim?

Burn injury attorneys use negligence as a legal theory to pursue compensation for their clients suffering severe injuries from a car accident, job site injury, or chemical exposure. The law gives the injured party (plaintiff) a burden of proof to hold the at-fault party (defendant) responsible for the victim’s damages.

All pertinent documents must be filed in the appropriate county courthouse before the statute of limitations expires to avoid losing the right to seek compensation for damages. 

Typically, the burn survivor will hire a burn injury attorney to represent their case and meet the burden of proof by showing that:

  • The defendant owed the injured party an obligation or legal duty to ensure safety while sharing the roadway, at work, or during a preventable catastrophe.
  • The defendant breached their obligation or duty to ensure the safety
  • The breach (failure) was the proximate legal cause of the accident or incident that left the injured party burned
  • The burn injury victim or surviving family members (plaintiffs) were harmed by injuries or the loss of a loved one through the defendant’s negligence
  • The state law requires the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for the harm and damages they have endured

Surviving family members likely have the right to file civil actions against any person or company who claimed the life of a loved one through their negligence. Many of these cases involve preventable accidents resulting in third-degree burns and thermal burns requiring immediate medical treatment.

Burn injury attorneys specializing in these types of personal injuries typically provide potential clients with a free consultation at their law firm to discuss holding others accountable for their negligence and receiving the compensation they deserve.

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