According to the American Burn Association, around 40,000 people are hospitalized due to burn injuries each year in the United States. Approximately 3,275 people die from fire or smoke inhalation. While the provision of burn centers, where the staff specializes specifically in treating this type of injury, has resulted in a decline of deaths, burn injuries are still serious and can lead to a lifetime of medical complications. If you’ve suffered burn injuries due to a defective product or an accident, you may be able to recover the compensation you need to pay for your injury-related expenses through a personal injury lawsuit. A Seattle burn injury lawyer can help you understand your legal options.
Understanding Burn Injuries
A burn is tissue damage that results from heat, overexposure to the sun, radiation, chemical, or electrical contact. The Mayo Clinic explains that there are three degrees of burn severity. Here is a look at each:
- First degree: This type of burn only affects the epidermis, which is the outer layer of skin. Symptoms of first degree burns include redness and pain, and treatment of first degree burns can usually be done at home.
- Second degree: Second degree burns involve the two outermost layers of skin, the epidermis and the dermis. This type of burn can cause redness, swelling, or blotchy skin. Blisters may develop, pain may be severe, and second degree burns can lead to scarring.
- Third degree: Third degree burns are those that reach into the fat layer beneath the skin. Burned areas may look black, brown, or white and the skin may look leathery. Third degree burns may cause significant scarring as well as damage to the nerves that can lead to numbness.
Burns of particular concern include those that are deep or cover a wide area of the body. The reason for concern is the increased risk of complications, including:
- Bacterial infection, which may travel to the bloodstream and cause sepsis.
- Fluid loss, including low blood volume.
- A low body temperature.
- Breathing problems from the intake of hot air or smoke.
- Scars or keloids, which are ridged areas that are caused by the overgrowth of scar tissue.
- Bone or joint problems due to the scarring from the burn causing a tightening of the skin, muscles, or tendons.
How Are Burns Treated?
When seeking medical treatment for burns, the person suffering the burn is often transferred to a burn center if the burn covers more than 10 percent of the body, is deep, or occurs in a problematic area such as the feet, groin, or face. The focus on burn treatment is controlling pain, removing dead skin, preventing infection and scarring risk, and regaining function of the area. Those with severe burns may also face skin grafts to cover large wounds, and physical therapy.
Other treatments may include:
- Ultrasound mist therapy that will clean the wound and stimulate healing.
- IV fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can lead to organ failure.
- Pain and anxiety medications, which help keep the patient calm during wound dressings.
- Topical treatments that help prevent infection
- Wound dressings, which may include specialized dressings or dry gauze.
- IV antibiotics to fight any infection that occurs secondary to the burn.
- Tetanus shot.
- Physical or occupational therapy to assist the patient in regaining function.
- Surgical assistance including breathing assistance if the burn victim has suffered burns to the face or neck, as the injury may cause swelling in the throat; placement of a feeding tube to ensure that a severely burned patient gets the nutrition he or she needs while recovering; surgery to improve blood flow around the wound; skin grafts involving the patient’s own skin, donor skin, or pig skin; or plastic surgery to improve the appearance of scarred areas and joint function if scarred and tightened skin has affected the movement of a joint.
Three Phases of Healing
There are three phases of burn care management for those with severe wounds:
- Emergent: The emergent phase is the first 48-72 hours after the burn occurred. This is the time when immediate, potentially fatal problems must be addressed such as fluid loss and breathing problems.
- Acute: The acute phase is when the focus shifts from lifesaving procedures to wound care. It begins when the burn victim’s urine output increases, showing that the patient is hydrated. It can last for weeks or months, as necrotic tissue begins to slough off and new tissue takes its place. This phase continues until the wounds are past the danger of infection, the skin is well into its healing process or the patient is ready to begin the skin graft process.
- Rehabilitation: This phase occurs when the patient begins to engage in self-care. Rehabilitation has begun, along with reintegration into society, and psychosocial support is given for the patient to manage feelings about the changes to his or her body that have been created by the injury. Patients in this phase must be reminded that newly-healed areas of skin are hypersensitive to the sun, and must be taught how to apply a complete dressing and to continue caring for the wound. Particularly severe burn cases may require in-home care for the patient during the rehabilitation phase or long-term.
Burns Really Happen Because of Negligence
Negligence is a breach in the duty of care that a person or entity owes to those around them or those who are using their products or visiting their business. Accidents that are caused by someone else’s negligence may result in severe burn injuries in numerous scenarios, including:
- Motor vehicle accidents: There are several different ways that a car crash can cause a severe burn, including airbag deployment, contact with dangerous chemicals such as gasoline, car fires, and explosions, electrocution or contact with a live electrical current, or exposure to hot metal or steam.
- Accidents in the workplace: According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, work-related fires and explosions account for more than 5,000 burn injuries each year. Sudies show a substantially high number of burn injuries occurring in the workplace, ranging from 10 to 45 percent of all burns.
- Defective products, such as electrical cords or even defective smoke detectors.
- Apartment building fires: Landlords and property management firms are required to keep apartments safe for their residents. This includes ensuring that the building’s electrical system is up to code, and requires the provision of safety features such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and sprinklers.
- Locked fire exit
- Scalding water and pipes
- Electrical accidents
- Recreational fires in hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, or nightclubs.
Compensation May Be Available
Those suffering burns from motor vehicle accidents, premises liability accidents, and injuries resulting from defective products may file a lawsuit against the at-fault party within three years of the date of the accident. Washington does not place a cap on compensation in personal injury lawsuits. Some of the potential damages that you may seek compensation for include:
- Current and future medical bills
- The cost of rehabilitative services
- The cost of in-home care
- Lost wages and the loss of future earning capacity
- Permanent injury or disability
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage or loss
- Scarring and disfigurement
If you’ve lost a loved one due to severe burns caused by negligence, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages such as:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills incurred before death
- Loss of future wages and benefits
- The cost of household tasks that the decedent used to perform
- Loss of companionship and consortium
- Pain and suffering incurred by the decedent before death
Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed on behalf of the decedent’s family members, including spouses, registered domestic partners, children, or stepchildren. If none of these family relationships exist with the decedent, then other family members are allowed to file the suit, including parents, sisters, or brothers who depended on the decedent for support. In cases involving the death of a child, parents who regularly contribute to the support of a child may participate in a wrongful death action. Like personal injury lawsuits, wrongful death suits in Washington must be filed within three years.
Those who suffered their burns due to a workplace accident will likely seek compensation through the state’s workers’ compensation program. Workers’ compensation benefits include compensation for approved medical, hospital, and related services as well as compensation for those who are unable to work due to the severity of their injuries. A Seattle burn lawyer can help you understand the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim and may be able to help you with appealing a workers’ compensation claim denial or other problems you encounter in the process.
Burn Injuries in the News
According to an article from the Seattle Times, Madigan Army Medical Center has been ordered to pay $12.3 million for an operating room fire that severely disfigured a 13-month-old child in 2015. The accident occurred when a surgeon activated an electrocautery device while an anesthesiologist administered oxygen to the child with a face mask. The fireball that resulted from the electrical device and the oxygen engulfed the child’s face, leaving the boy with severe burns. The child spent 22 days in intensive care and the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center and will require numerous future facial reconstruction surgeries. The judge found both the surgeon and the anesthesiologist liable in that they negligently failed to communicate with one another about the risk of a fire before beginning the procedure, which had been scheduled to remove a small, benign cyst from the child’s forehead. The Army admitted that it was negligent and responsible for the fire.
USA Today reported that nearly $60 million was awarded to a former high school student who was brutally burned in a failed chemistry experiment at school. The accident occurred when a chemistry teacher at Beacon High School in Manhattan conducted an experiment involving a gallon jug of methanol. A fireball erupted, causing burns to 31 percent of the 16-year-old student’s body. The student was hospitalized for five months after the accident, and had to endure painful skin graft surgeries to burns he suffered on his face, neck, arms, and hands. The school district stated after the verdict that it plans to explore its legal options to attempt to reduce the verdict to an amount more consistent with the damage awards received in similar cases, and also stated that it is no longer allowing that particular chemistry experiment to be conducted in its science classes.
WHYY reported that a lawyer has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against three U.S. manufacturers whose products allegedly played a central role in a fire at a high rise in London in 2017. The fire started with a faulty refrigerator in a fourth floor apartment, but quickly spread and engulfed the entire 24-story building in flames. The blaze killed 72 people and injured 100 more, in addition to destroying 151 homes in and around the tower.
The companies named as defendants in the lawsuit include a Whirlpool subsidiary that built the refrigerator that started the fire, a company who manufactures insulation that is not only highly flammable but also produces toxic gas when burned, and a company that supplies exterior cladding that features a highly flammable core. The complaint has 247 plaintiffs, including 69 families who lost a loved one in the fire and 177 people who suffered serious, life-altering injuries. It could be more than two years before the lawsuit sees the inside of a courtroom, at which point the lawyer estimates that there will be many more plaintiffs.
Our Burn Injury Attorneys Fight for Your Rights
If you suffered burn injuries due to someone else’s negligence, you likely have a lot of questions about your right to compensation. We’d like to give you some answers to those questions in a free consultation and case review. Call us at (877) 999-9999 or contact us at Boohoff Law online.