Can I sue for a severe burn?
According to the American Burn Association (ABA), every year more than 450,000 serious burn injuries occur in the United States that require medical treatment.
If your South Carolina burn injury is the result of negligence or some other wrongful act, you may be able to receive compensation to help with a potentially costly recovery.
Types of burn injuries
Burn injuries are classified by degree from least to most severe:
|Type of burn
|First-degree burns damage the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). These burns typically heal within a week.
|Possible symptoms include redness, mild pain, and mild swelling.
|Second-degree burns affect both the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the second layer of skin (dermis). With these burns, a skin graft is sometimes needed.
|Possible symptoms include discoloration, blisters, scarring, and swelling.
|Third-degree burns destroy both layers of skin and reach the fat layer beneath the skin. Skin grafts are always required with third-degree burns.
|Possible symptoms include discoloration (black, brown, or white), leathery appearance, numbness, swelling, and permanent scarring.
Burns can result in intense and prolonged pain. What’s more, severe burns can cause a number of complications that might surprise you, including:
- Bacterial infections
- Fluid loss
- Low body temperature
- Breathing problems
- Bone and joint problems
- Mental trauma
How do burn injuries happen?
When most people think about a burn injury, they picture someone getting too close to a fire. But burns can be caused by all kinds of sources:
- Thermal burns occur when you come into contact with something hot, such as heater appliances, cooking pans, liquid, or flames. Thermal burns are the most common type of burn.
- Radiation burns are skin injuries caused by radiation. The most common type of radiation burn is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Less common radiation burns result from therapeutic cancer treatments and nuclear power plant leaks. The term “burn” is a misnomer for these wounds because the skin has not actually been burned. However, the wounds can look and feel like burns.
- Chemical burns are injuries to the skin caused by acids, alkalis, detergents, or solvents. Examples of substances that may cause chemical burns include chlorine, ammonia, bleach, battery acid, strong or harsh cleaners.
- Electrical burns are injuries to the skin caused by alternating electrical currents (AC) or direct electrical currents (DC).
- Friction burns are injuries to the skin caused by heat generated by friction, such as when you scrape your knee against a hard surface or slide a rope quickly through your hands.
Some of the most common causes of burn injuries include:
- Defective products
- Electrical accidents
- House fires
Legal options after suffering a burn injury in South Carolina
If you or a loved one suffered a serious burn injury in South Carolina, you may be able to recover damages by filing a lawsuit.
There are 4 causes of action that cover most burn injuries:
1. Filing a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence
If someone’s carelessness caused your burn injury, the person may be considered negligent.
To establish negligence in South Carolina, you must prove that:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care, and
- The defendant’s breach was the cause of your injury.
2. Filing a personal injury lawsuit based on product liability
A product liability lawsuit is based on a defective product that causes an injury. In South Carolina, there are 3 types of defects that can give rise to a product liability claim based on a burn injury:
- Design defect. A product has a design defect if it’s inherently dangerous even though it was manufactured as intended. To put it another way, the only way to make the product safe is to come up with a different design.
- Manufacturing defect. A manufacturing defect occurs when the product would be safe if manufactured properly, but some error occurred in the manufacturing process that rendered the product unsafe.
- Inadequate warnings. If a product doesn’t come with proper warnings, the manufacturer may be liable.
There are a number of products that could cause burns, including defective hairdryers, grills, or smartphones.
Travis was able to jump out of the plane just before it burst into flames.
“When I jumped through the emergency exit, I was in such a hurry to exit the plane that I jumped right into the jet, which was full of fuel. My whole body lit up.”
Travis was left with third-degree burns over 65% of his body. He spent 11 weeks in the hospital and underwent 27 surgeries and skin grafts.
A subsequent investigation found that the plane’s tires were underinflated. As a result, one of the plane’s tires blew as it sped toward takeoff. The pilot had not been properly trained to handle such an event and made the deadly decision to abort the takeoff.
Travis filed a lawsuit against a number of defendants, alleging that the tires were defective, the plane was not properly maintained, and the pilot was negligent.
The lawsuit was settled for a confidential amount.
3. Filing a personal injury lawsuit based on premises liability
Premises liability laws hold landowners responsible for injuries to others on their property. For example, a property owner may be held liable if one of their errant fireworks burns a spectator.
Whether or not a landowner can be held liable for a particular injury depends, in part, on why the injured person was on the property. Generally speaking, landowners are liable for dangerous conditions that they fail to make safe or warn visitors about.
4. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit
A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit filed by the personal representative of the deceased's estate against a defendant who caused the death of the deceased through negligence or some other wrongful act.
A wrongful death claim is similar to a personal injury lawsuit in the sense that the personal representative must prove that the defendant's negligence or wrongful act caused the deceased's death.
In South Carolina, surviving family members who can recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The surviving spouse and children of the deceased
- The surviving parents of the deceased (if there are no spouse or children)
- The heirs of the deceased person (if there are no spouse, children, or parents)
In every wrongful death action, it's up to the jury to decide the total amount of damages sustained by the surviving family members. That total amount is then divided among the eligible surviving family members by the share each would take as an heir in intestacy. These damages may include:
- Pecuniary loss (i.e., the loss of financial care, maintenance, and support)
- Mental shock and suffering
- Wounded feelings
- Grief and sorrow
- Loss of society and companionship
Burn injuries in the workplace
If a burn injury occurs at work, you may be able to receive workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured while performing their job duties.
Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance, which means you don’t need to establish that your employer or colleague was negligent in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits. In fact, even if you were partly or fully to blame for your work-related burn injury, you should still be eligible for workers’ compensation.
Possible compensation for a burn injury
In South Carolina, burn victims may be able to recover the following damages:
- Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by the burn injury (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage)
- Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by the burn injury (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted willfully or recklessly.
Damages are capped in South Carolina as follows:
- When suing governments and government officials, damages are capped at $300,000 per person or $600,000 per occurrence
- In medical malpractice cases, non-economic damages are capped at $350,000 per defendant and can’t exceed $1.05 million for all defendants
- Punitive damages are capped at $500,000, or 3 times the actual damages (whichever is greater)
Resources for burn victims
Burn victims often face incredible challenges. Burn victims may need to relearn how to complete day-to-day tasks such as walking and showering all over again. What’s more, burn victims often experience mental changes, such as flashbacks, confusion, and depression.
Fortunately, burn victims don’t have to travel the road to recovery alone. Here are some resources that may help:
- The American Burn Association and its members “dedicate their efforts and resources to promoting and supporting burn-related research, education, care, rehabilitation, and prevention.”
- The Phoenix Society is a national nonprofit organization whose goal is to “unite the voice of the burn community across the globe to profoundly advance lifelong healing, optimal recovery, and burn prevention.”
- Burn model systems is a “knowledge translation center” that offers evidence-based resources for people living with burn injuries and their supporters.
- The South Carolina Burn Center has burn specialists who treat burn victims around the state and country.