Burn injuries are among the most prevalent types of injuries, especially for those involved in a car accident or workplace incident in California. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 416,000 people in 2018 sought emergency medical care for a burn injury.
Many of these injuries are the result of accidents or rare events, with no option available to take legal action. However, a number of them involve intentional or negligent conduct that leads to the burn injury. This means that the burn victim may have the right to sue the responsible party to recover damages.
Those living in California also have a unique risk of burn injuries due to the elevated risk of wildfires, especially in Southern California. Yet whatever part of California you’re in, the risk of a burn injury is ever-present. Therefore, a San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego or Los Angeles burn injury patient seeking medical care is a common occurrence.
Types of burn injuries
The type of burn injury will depend on serious they are and what caused them. There are three common types of burns:
- Thermal burn. This is what most people think of when they imagine a burn injury. Thermal burns are common when someone accidentally touches a very hot object for too long.
- Chemical burn. Also called a caustic burn, a chemical burn is where a strong chemical harms the skin or other human tissue. Chemical burns can occur from acids and bases, as well as solvents.
- Electrical burn. If the skin comes into contact with electricity, a burn can result. An electrical burn can imitate the effects of a chemical or thermal burn.
These are the most common burns. However, there are several other types of burns:
- Radiation burn. A radiation burn occurs when there’s overexposure to any form of radiation, like x-rays or ultraviolet light. The most common type of radiation burn is sunburn.
- Cold burn. Sounds contradictory, but when human tissue gets too cold, it can be damaged from the extreme cold. Frostbite is a common type of cold burn.
- Friction burn. If the skin rubs against another surface very quickly, it can create enough friction to cause a burn injury. Depending on the amount of friction, the injury may be abrasive. In extreme cases, a thermal burn injury can also result.
Degrees of burn injuries
When it comes to grading the severity of a burn injury, there are four levels of burns.
- First-degree burn. The burn only causes damage to the upper layers of skin (epidermis). One of the most common types of first degree burns is sunburn, First degree burns can be painful, with redness, inflammation and peeling skin. However, there will be no damage to the lower layers of skin or the formation of a blister.
- Second-degree burn. In addition to the upper layer of skin getting burned, the lower layer (dermis) will also receive damage. Second-degree burns will often result in a blister. If only a part of the dermis was burned, scarring is unlikely. However, if the burn affects all of the dermis, then permanent damage is possible. In severe cases, a skin graft may be necessary.
- Third-degree burn. A third-degree burn completely destroys both the upper and lower layers of skin, often necessitating the need for medical treatment. Third-degree burns aren’t as painful as you might think due to nerve damage. Skin grafts are a strong possibility, as scarring is highly likely.
- Fourth-degree burn. These are the most severe types of burns. Even if covering a small area of the body, they can potentially become life-threatening. In addition to the total destruction of both layers of skin, the burn can damage other types of tissue, including bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Skin grafts are commonly used for cosmetic reconstruction following a fourth-degree burn.
What is a thermal burn injury?
A thermal burn is a type of injury where the damage comes from an excessive amount of heat. Depending on how much heat energy is sent into the body, a thermal injury can be almost instantaneous, or occur over the period of a few seconds to a few minutes. Common sources of thermal burns include:
- Very hot metal, including molten metal
- Scalding liquids, especially boiling water
What is a chemical burn?
A chemical burn is tissue damage caused by a very strong irritant, often a chemical, cleaner, acid or base. These can cause burns when they splash or fall onto unprotected skin, eyes or other parts of the body.
Chemical burns can occur in a myriad of ways, such as a mechanic having battery acid spray into his eyes, a pool cleaner getting irritated skin while mixing chlorinating products or when the fuel tank ruptures in a rollover car accident and spills a large amount of gasoline onto the accident victim.
What is an electrical burn?
As its name implies, an electrical burn is a type of burn injury caused by electricity. However, the electricity may harm the body in one or two ways.
First, the process of the electricity flowing through the body causes tissue damage. Second, the electricity causes high temperatures on the skin or in the air (when there’s an electrical arc) which can create a type of thermal burn.
Electrical burns are common in the home, where there’s exposed wire or metal that’s carrying a high amount of current or voltage. For instance, there could be a power cord with insulation that has worn away when someone touches it.
Where do most burn injuries occur?
According to the American Burn Association, the vast majority of burns occur in the home (73%). A distant second is “other” at 9%, then the workplace at 8% and roads at 5%.
Burn injury workers compensation
Because the workplace is the second most common location for burn injuries to occur, workers’ compensation claims frequently occur for burn injury victims. The vast majority of all burns are thermal, with 77% of burn injuries in the United States coming from a combination of scalding and fire. But in the work setting, thermal burns (from touching hot objects) and chemical burns (from exposure to caustics) were the most common sources of burn injuries.
If you get hurt at work and suffer a burn injury, you likely have the right to receive workers’ compensation benefits to help pay for your medical bills and lost wages. But to receive these benefits, you need to report the accident to your employer as soon as possible. If your employer or its workers’ compensation insurance provider doesn’t promptly pay your claim, don’t hesitate to ask for a free consultation from one of the many workers’ comp law firms.
Chemical burn at work compensation
Chemical burns are fairly rare at home and in the general public setting. But they are quite common at work. But not all professions are affected the same way. Chemical burns tend to occur more frequently to those working as:
- Car mechanics
- Plant workers
- Construction workers
- Workers in the petroleum and chemical fabrication industries
Burns from Car and Road Accidents
The most common type of burn from car and road accidents is the thermal burn. These can occur when there are accidents involving fires or burned victims come into contact with hot engine parts. But chemical burns are also possible, whether from extensive exposure to gasoline or when an airbag deploys.
Airbag Chemical Burns
Motor vehicles are safer today in part because of airbags. They are extremely effective in saving lives during a car accident. But as the use of airbags has grown, there is a rising number of burns caused by airbags. Most airbag-related burns affect the occupant’s hands, arms and face.
Many of these are chemical burns and the result of sodium hydroxide in the gasses created to help deploy the airbag. However, thermal burns can also occur from friction or high-temperature gases.
How are burn injury payouts calculated?
Compared to other types of personal injuries, burn injury cases tend to have higher damage payouts. This is due to the relatively painful nature of burn injuries and the tendency for them to lead to permanent scarring.
In deciding how much to expect for a burn injury, whether following trial or during settlement negotiations, various factored must be considered. Some of these factors include:
- How the burn occurred
- Where the incident happened that led to the burn injury
- Whether the responsible party acted recklessly or intentionally
- How severe the burns were and the resulting level of pain and suffering
- How much of the body was burned
- The level of scarring or disfigurement
- If the burn results in a physical disability, like a reduced range of motion in the extremities
- The emotional impact the burn had on the victim
- The amount of medical care needed to treat the burns
What are the time limits to sue for a burn injury?
Burns are a type of personal injury. As a result, California’s statute of limitations of two years for personal injuries will apply. This gives a burn victim two years from the date of the burn injury to file suit against the responsible parties.
In rare cases, this two-year deadline can be extended. This might happen if the prospective defendant leaves the state of California or the burn victim was a minor when the injury occurred. Even if a statute of limitation exception applies, it’s best to act as quickly as possible.
If you’ve recently experienced a burn injury and think suing someone might be something you want to do, don’t wait to talk to an attorney. The consultations are almost always free and you’ll get a good idea of what legal options are available to you.