Learn what makes a burn injury catastrophic and how to get compensation
The American Burn Association reports that approximately 450,000 people are hospitalized for burn injuries each year. Even more receive treatment in community health centers, hospital clinics and private practice offices. An estimated 3,400 of these cases involve catastrophic burn injuries that result in death annually.
Types of burns
There are many types of burns that can lead to severe injury. The most common types include:
- Chemical burns account for approximately 3 percent of burn injuries. Ammonia, battery acid, bleach, carpet cleaning agents, drain cleaning compounds, oven cleaning products, dishwashing detergents, glass cleaning agents, mold removal formulas and toilet cleaning compounds are all caustic formulas that can cause a burn if handled improperly. Mixing 2 volatile substances together also increases the risk of danger.
- Electrical burns occur when the body comes in contact with an electrical current that may include household outlet currents, power line currents, stun gun emissions and lightning. In addition to causing a topical burn, injuries caused by electrical contact can also damage internal organs.
- Heat/thermal burns occur when the body comes in contact with an open flame or steam or by touching hot items. Exposure to a temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit or higher can cause a catastrophic burn injury after only 1 second of contact.
- Inhalation burns occur when breathing in toxic fumes and can result in severe lung damage. The eyes can also be affected by the exposure. Inhalation injuries may result from smoke, carbon monoxide or fumes from toxic chemicals.
- Radiation burns occur after exposure to high-frequency microwaves, radio waves, ultraviolet light, prolonged sun exposure or nuclear energy exposure. The severity of the damage depends on the length of exposure. Radioactive substances can cause external and/or internal injuries depending on the type of exposure. Gamma-ray and radioactive substances can change cellular structures, which may lead to cell mutations and malignancy formations.
Health care providers classify burns according to the depth and size of the injury.
- 1st-degree burns affect the epidermis or uppermost skin layer and are typically red with some discomfort.
- 2nd-degree burns are considered superficial partial-thickness injuries, which involve blistered areas that may rupture, weep (ooze) and cause pain.
- 3rd-degree burns are considered full-thickness injuries that penetrate the epidermis and the underlying dermis to include nerve tissue. Due to nerve damage, victims often don’t feel pain. But, if the affected area doesn’t receive proper treatment, a serious infection may result.
- 4th-degree burns penetrate even deeper and involve muscles and bones. The affected area is often blackened or charred.
Why 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns are catastrophic
Deep partial-thickness, full-thickness and other severe burns are deemed catastrophic injuries for various reasons. Skin acts as a protective layer over muscles, connective tissues, bones and organs. Serious burns create open wounds that serve as portals for potential infection.
The affected areas also lose fluid, which can cause an imbalance of electrolytes and potentially lead to shock, which is a life-threatening condition. Severe burns typically require more extensive medical intervention and a prolonged healing time.
Long-term effects of catastrophic burn injuries
Burns can have numerous long-term effects. Serious 2nd-degree, 3rd-degree and 4th-degree burns may heal but leave permanent scarring and disfigurement.
A contracture scar often occurs after a large area of skin is damaged. It causes tightening of the skin, which may result in chronic pain. If this scarring is located over a joint, it may also lead to restricted movement.
Severe scarring is especially disfiguring as the healed tissue is visibly abnormal. The skin may exhibit a melted or thinned appearance. In an attempt to treat the burn, large areas of tissues, digits or limbs may require removal, which can further lead to disfigurement.
Scarring can affect pores in the skin. If the scarring occurs over large regions, the body may have difficulty regulating temperatures.
Scarring can also lead to severe nerve damage. A loss of nerve tissue reduces sensation, which may lead to future injuries.
Burn treatment options
Medical intervention for burn injuries depends on the classification and size of the burn. First- and 2nd-degree burns are commonly treated with cold compresses and topical ointments. If blisters rupture, protective dressings and antibiotic ointment may be required.
Deep tissue and 3rd-degree burns often require hospitalization and treatment such as antibiotics, pain medicine, electrolyte replacement and protective dressings. Doctors may need to remove dead and dying skin for new cell growth to occur, so skin grafts may be necessary.
Consult a Florida burn injury lawyer
If you suffered a catastrophic burn injury at work or secondary to the neglect of another person, a burn injury lawsuit can help you recover financial compensation for your injury. Victims with severe burns often need money for emergency and ongoing medical treatment, physical therapy and loss of income. In some cases, injuries resulting from burns may even prevent you from returning to work.