According to the American Burn Association, 486,000 million people received medical treatment for burns in 2016. Severe burn injuries are some of the most devastating types of personal injury, and are the third-leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, behind automobile accidents and falls. Third degree burns cause severe pain and injury, and may cause muscle, tendon, and ligament damage, as well as severe disfigurement. They may require years of treatment, including skin grafting, dermabrasion, skin substitutes, rehabilitation, medication, and even perhaps psychological therapy.
If you have suffered a severe burn injury because of another person’s actions or negligence, you have the right to bring a personal injury lawsuit against that person. If he or she was working for a company at the time of the injury, you also have the right to sue his or her employer. You can recover financial damages for all medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. Working with a personal injury attorney is the best way to ensure you are fully compensated for all physical and psychological injuries, so you can recover as completely, and regain as much quality of life as possible.
Types of Burns
About Burn Injuries
Serious burns are complex and can affect muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. The lungs and airway may also be damaged by breathing in smoke and superheated air. The severity of a burn injury is determined by a number of factors, including the depth of the burned area, the total body surface area (TBSA) burned, the location of the burn, what caused the burn, and the age and health of the burn victim.
The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the second layer), and subcutaneous tissues (fat and muscle). Traditionally, burn injuries have been classified according to degree. This classification is being replaced by a system that addresses how deep the burns penetrate the skin. Many doctors prefer these newer descriptions because they relate more closely to the prognosis and treatment of the burn than the older method does. You may hear both terms, so we’ve defined them below.
First-Degree or Superficial Burns
A first-degree burn usually affects only the outer layer (epidermis). A sunburn is a good example of a first-degree burn: the skin is red and dry, and tender to the touch, but there are no blisters.
Second-Degree or Partial-Thickness Burns
A second-degree burn affects the epidermis and the next layer of skin, the dermis. The dermis also has two levels, the superficial (“papillary”) dermis, and the deep (“reticular”) dermis layer.
Second-degree burns may be partial-thickness superficial burns, if they only damage the papillary dermis. Partial-thickness deep burns are those that damage both the papillary and reticular dermis layers. Second-degree or partial-thickness burns are painful, red, and blistered or swollen.
Third-Degree or Fourth Degree = Full-Thickness Burns
Third-degree burns affect all layers of the skin and often the underlying tissue, tendons, joints, and bones, so they are also called full-thickness burns. The burned area may be charred black or dry and white. For some people, a third-degree burn is excruciatingly painful. If they are not painful, that means the nerve endings have been destroyed. Third-degree burns result in scarring, and often requires skin grafting. Victims will also lose hair shafts and keratin.
Fourth degree burns damage muscle, tendon, and ligament tissue, resulting in charring to and catastrophic damage of the hypodermis, including nerve endings, resulting in loss of sensation. In some cases, the hypodermis tissue may be partially or completely burned away, resulting in a condition known as compartment syndrome, a life-threatening disorder. Skin grafting is required if the burns do not prove fatal.
There are also fifth- and sixth-degree burns; these are usually fatal and only seen at postmortem examinations (autopsies). In rare cases, where the burn is limited to one area, such as an arm or leg, the surgeon may amputate.
Total Body Surface Area
Burns are also assessed in terms of total body surface area (TBSA) burned, which is the percentage affected by partial thickness or full thickness burns. The “rule of nines” is used as a quick way to estimate the TBSA affected. The adult body is divided into regions, each of which makes up nine percent of the TBSA. These regions are the head and neck, each upper limb, the chest, the abdomen, the upper back, the lower back and the buttocks, the front of each lower limb, and the back of each lower limb. These 11 regions make up 99 percent of the human body. The remaining one percent is the genital area. With an infant or small child, more emphasis is placed on the head and trunk.
The first 48 hours after being burned are the most critical for survival and recovery. The two main concerns of health care professionals are infection and fluid loss:
- Due to the damage to the skin’s protective barrier, third-degree burns often lead to infection, which if not treated promptly and appropriately can result in life-threatening consequences, even death.
- Swelling and blistering of the burned skin is caused by fluid leaking from damaged blood vessels. In severe cases, this fluid loss can cause shock, and require immediate blood transfusion and/or intravenous fluids to maintain blood pressure.
To counter these concerns, doctors will order intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics, and a tetanus shot during the initial treatment after a burn.
Once the patient has been stabilized, the wounds are cleaned and covered. If there is not enough skin left to cover the burned area, doctors will perform skin grafts, using skin from unburned areas of the victim’s body if possible, and, if not, using donated skin (from a deceased donor), or artificial skin. If you have been seriously burned, your chances for a successful recovery are greatest when you are treated at one of the 123 specialized burn treatment centers across the United States.
A burn victim is at risk for dying from certain other conditions, such as infection, multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, acute respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, heart problems, or sepsis. Medical researchers have discovered that internal organs often suffer damage after a critical burn injury. When faced with a life-threatening injury, the body redirects blood to the brain and heart, which can deplete intestines and lungs of oxygen and vital blood-borne nutrients.
Burn Types and Causes
There are distinct types of burns, each with a unique set of causes.
Thermal burns are the most common type of burns. They are caused by contact with hot objects, fire, or excessive heat such as steam, or hot liquids. Even when the person is removed from the source, the burn is still occurring, and requires the prompt first aid to cool the burn with cool water or a compress and protection with a sterile non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.
Depending upon their severity, thermal burns can cause the minor discomfort of first-degree burns to life-threatening third-degree burns.
Causes of thermal burns are structure fires or vehicle fires, which may result from a traffic collision, if the gas line or gas tank is ruptured. Fires often start in kitchens, both at home and in restaurants. Thermal burns can also occur in factories or anyplace where metal equipment becomes dangerously hot, or emit steam.
Friction burns are a common result from a person is dragged across a surface. For instance, if a person is dragged along the pavement in an accident, this will cause friction burns on exposed skin. This is also known as “road rash,” and are common to victims of motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian accidents.
Electrical burns occur when a person touches or is touched by an exposed live wire line or other electrical source. The severity of the electrical shock or burn depends on the type of current and the voltage. An electrical shock can be mild or can cause severe damage to the skin, and even cause amputation and affect internal organs.
Electrical burns may happen to electricians or construction workers, when constructing or repairing buildings. People can also be electrocuted by defective electrical appliances or household currents, if their home’s wiring is done incorrectly. Stun guns can also cause electrical burns.
Chemical burns are caused by acids and other caustic substances, many of them found in household cleaning products.
Radiation burns are caused by exposure to the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, X-rays, radiation treatment for cancer, and nuclear medicine.
Fire has been associated with three types of inhalation injuries. (Inhalation injuries also occur with other types of burns, such as the inhalation of a caustic chemical.) When inhalation injuries are combined with external burns, risk to the person increases significantly. The three types of inhalation injuries are:
- Damage from Heat Inhalation: Lungs are burned when the person inhales superheated air or a flame source, or high pressure forces the heat into the lungs. In most cases, thermal injury is confined to the upper airways. However, secondary airway injury can occur if a person inhales steam, as it has a greater thermal capacity than dry air.
- Damage from Systemic Toxins: Systemic toxins affect our ability to absorb oxygen. Toxin poisoning can cause permanent damage to organs, including the brain. If someone is unconscious or exhibiting confusion after an enclosed fire, the inhalation of toxins could be a cause. Carbon monoxide poisoning, for instance, can appear without symptoms up until the point where the victim falls into a coma.
- Damage from Smoke Inhalation: Smoke inhalation is not a visible injury, and victims may not receive necessary medical treatment if rescue personnel focus on victims whose injuries are apparent. However, 60% to 80% of fatalities resulting from burn injuries are due to smoke inhalation. Signs of smoke inhalation injury usually appear within 2-48 hours after the fire, and include fainting; evidence of respiratory distress or upper airway obstruction; soot around the mouth or nose; singed nasal hairs, eyebrows, and/or eyelashes; or burns around the face or neck. Upper airway edema (swelling) is the earliest consequence of inhalation injury, and is usually seen during the first 6 to 24 hours after the injury. Early obstruction of the upper airway is managed by intubation. Initial treatment consists of removing the patient from the gas and allowing him or her to breathe air or oxygen.
When to File a Lawsuit for a Burn Case
Burn injuries require intensive treatments, such as costly skin grafts and rehabilitation. If the burns were caused by a fire, a car accident or a work-related incident that was not the fault of victims, they can sue the responsible party for financial damages in court.
Don’t put yourself or your family at financial risk – contact the burn injury lawyers at TorkLaw today to learn more about your rights after an accident that results in severe burn injury.
Personal injury litigation can help you obtain compensation to cover expensive medical treatments, lost income from missed work, pain and suffering, and more. It is in your best interest to explore your legal options when you or a loved one suffers needlessly because of someone else’s negligence. Call today at 888.845.9696and see what we can do for you when debilitating burn injury attempts to rob you and your family of a secure, financial future.