A severe burn injury can leave you with medical bills, lost income, and a lot of pain. You can recover costs through a personal injury or workers’ compensation claim.
We’ve all been burned.
Both figuratively and literally, of course. But a kitchen mishap that results in a minor burn on the finger that you can treat with a bandage and over-the-counter cream is completely different from a severe burn that leaves you with a permanent disability and scarring.
While some accidents that leave you with a burn injury are no one's fault (after all, some accidents are just accidents), sometimes your burn is the result of a car accident, product defect, unsafe premises, or another incident for which someone was liable.
If that's the situation, you might be eligible to recover losses through a personal injury lawsuit or workers' compensation claim.
Types of burn injuries
A burn will fall into 1 of 3 categories:
1st degree burn
This is a mild burn and doesn't require medical treatment. You might feel discomfort and see reddening of the skin's outer layer, but you can likely use an over-the-counter topical burn remedy to soothe the pain. A 1st degree burn will heal on its own after a few days.
2nd degree burn
A 2nd degree burn includes red skin, blistering, and pain. It might appear glossy or involve leaking of fluid and skin loss. This type of burn should be treated by a doctor or urgent care medical professional.
3rd degree burn
This is the most severe category of burn injury because it penetrates the skin and destroys tissue. The skin will become dry and leathery, or could appear white, brown, or black. If someone suffers a 3rd degree burn, they should seek emergency medical attention.
There are several ways to suffer a burn injury. The most common include:
- Scalding, when hot liquid comes into contact with skin.
- Electrical burns, where electrical voltage on the surface of the skin can also cause internal damage.
- Inhalation burns from inhaling smoke, steam, or toxic fumes.
- Chemical burns from a strong acid or base in contact with skin.
- Gas explosions caused by a gas leak that catches fire.
- Thermal burns, which include exposure to fire (like a car accident, building fire, or flammable liquid exposure).
- Radiation burns, such as from X-rays, radiation from medical treatment, or tanning beds.
A burn injury could be more or less severe depending on which part of the body is affected, the source of the burn, and even the age of the person. Children and elderly people don't heal as well as other people. A burn on the face might cause breathing or vision problems, where the same level of burn on the arm or leg, for example, might not have complications. People with respiratory illnesses, heart conditions, kidney disease, and diabetes might be more affected by a burn than people without those conditions.
Common causes of severe burn injuries
No matter how careful you are, a burn injury can happen when you least expect it. Some of the most common causes of severe burn injuries include:
- Truck or car accidents
- Workplace injuries
- Defective products
- Electrical accidents
- Scalding water or pipes
- Fires in public places (like restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, etc.)
- Apartment building fires
Burn injuries at work
Any injury, including a burn, that happens in your workplace or when you're doing your job is eligible for a workers' compensation claim.
The workers' compensation system is available in every state to compensate an injured employee for medical expenses and lost wages during recovery.
The benefit to workers' compensation insurance is that it covers an employee regardless of whether anyone (including the employee) was at fault. The main questions in a workers' compensation claim are whether the accident happened in the workplace or while the employee was performing work-related tasks.
If you can prove that it was a work-related accident, and if your medical records indicate that there were costs associated with your treatment, then you're likely eligible for workers' compensation benefits.
Workers' compensation covers:
- Medical treatment
- Income replacement (past and future)
- Retraining costs if you can no longer work at the job you had before the injury
- Partial compensation for permanent injuries
- Benefits to the family of a worker who dies from a work-related accident or illness (death benefits)
- If you were burned while using defective equipment, you might have a claim against the manufacturer.
- A vendor or subcontractor could be liable for a workplace injury.
- A work-related vehicle accident could result in a claim against the at-fault driver.
If your burn was work-related but possibly caused by a person or entity other than your employer, contact a workers' compensation attorney for advice.
Filing a burn injury claim
If you've suffered a burn because of someone's negligence, there are ways to recover costs.
You can file a claim for burn injury damages if the incident cost you money.
A minor burn that you treated on your own wouldn't recover damages, even if it was someone else's fault. The purpose of a personal injury claim is to restore the plaintiff to the position they were in before the injury happened. If there are medical bills, lost time from work, and other expenses, then you might be able to recover damages.
First, you'll need to establish each of the elements of negligence:
- A person or entity owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
- The duty was breached.
- The breach caused the injury.
- The injury resulted in financial loss.
A “duty of care” is the obligation to avoid causing harm to another person, either by action or inaction. A duty can exist between two people who don't know each other. For example, a driver has a duty of care with respect to any other person who shares the road—other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Likewise, a manufacturer has a duty of care to make sure that the products it makes and sells will not injure someone when used in a foreseeable way.
A “breach” happens when a defendant doesn't uphold their duty to avoid harm to another person.
Here's an example:
One day, as Helen was drying her hair, a flame shot out of the dryer and she suffered 2nd degree burns on her hand and arm. Helen required medical treatment and was unable to return to work for 2 weeks because it was too painful for her to use her hand during that time.
Upon inspection, it was determined that the hair dryer had a short in its electrical system that caused it to catch fire.
Helen filed a claim against the manufacturer of the hair dryer because the device had a defect that caused injury when the item was being used according to its specifications.
In this scenario, Helen would likely be able to recover damages to cover her medical treatment, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Wrongful death claims from burn injuries
A burn can be very serious and occasionally even fatal.
When someone dies from an injury caused by negligence, their family can file a wrongful death claim. A spouse, partner, child, sibling, or other relative who was financially dependent on the deceased person can file the lawsuit.
A wrongful death lawsuit relies on the same elements as any negligence personal injury case, but it's handled a little differently in court. The family would file one claim on the deceased person's behalf for medical treatment, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc., and then they can file a secondary claim for themselves. That secondary claim would include causes of action like loss of consortium, which includes loss of companionship and household activities, emotional distress of close family members, and sometimes punitive damages.
Finding a personal injury lawyer for your burn injury
You should never feel badly about claiming the damages you deserve — whether you were injured at work, in a car accident, or in some other way that was the result of someone’s negligence.
The amount of damages you can receive will depend on the severity of the injury. This downloadable expense worksheet can help you calculate costs and get a rough estimate of what your claim could be worth. Be sure to scroll through each page to include medical expenses, property damage, prescriptions, and lost wages.
The best way to gauge your damages will be to consult a personal injury attorney who has experience with similar cases and access to accountants, medical experts, actuaries and other financial professionals who can correctly assess your losses. Especially if your burn injury will keep you out of future work or if you have continuing medical treatment, it’s important to have damages assessed by professionals so you’re receiving the correct amount.
If you don’t know where to begin, start by browsing the free Enjuris Personal Injury Lawyer Directory to find an attorney near you who can help with your case. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation, so you can meet the attorney at no cost and get their advice about your best course of action.