Burns can cause severe pain, infection, amputation, or even death. And they are increasingly common. In 2016, 486,000 people received medical treatment for burn injuries and 40,000 required hospitalization. Roughly 4,000 people die of their burn injuries every year.
If you live in Gwinnett County and have suffered burn injuries through no fault of your own, contact an experienced burn injury attorney from Brauns Law today to learn how we can help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Common Sources of Burn Injuries
While most people are familiar with thermal burns – those caused by touching a hot object – there are many other sources of burn injuries. They include cold burns (frostbite), friction burns (caused by something that rubs off layers of your skin – think road rash), radiation burns (sunburns), electrical (contact with an electrical current), and chemical burns (strong acids, solvents or detergents that come into contact with your skin).
Types of Burns
Burns are classified both by how deeply they burn the skin (how many layers are damaged) and the size of the burn area. The deeper the burn, the harder it is to treat and the more likely permanent damage will result. Burn injuries are broken down into four categories of severity.
- First-Degree Burns – These burns are fairly common and affect the top layer of skin. If you’ve ever had a sunburn, then you’ve experienced at least a first-degree burn. Symptoms can include pain, minor inflammation, redness, and peeling skin as healing occurs. While they can be painful, first-degree burns usually only last for seven to 10 days and rarely require medical treatment unless they are large burns or are on the face or major joints. Home treatment of this type of burn may include taking over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, soaking the burn in cool water (but not cold water or ice, as this can make worsen the damage), and applying an antibiotic cream to the affected area. Aloe Vera can also soothe and reduce the pain of first degree burns. If you wish to cover your burn, be sure to avoid bandages that contain cotton – its fibers can get stick to your burn and cause infection.
- Second-Degree Burns – Second-degree burns affect the top layer of skin like first-degree burns, but also go deeper and do damage to the second layer as well. Because they inflict deeper damage, second degree burns are often accompanied by severe redness and blisters. While no two injuries are exactly alike, most second-degree burns heal within about three weeks. During this healing period, keep the wound clean and bandaged. This helps speed healing and can prevent infection. If your second-degree burn is serious enough or has damaged a large enough area of your skin, you may need a skin graft for the burn to heal properly. A doctor performs a skin graft when she takes healthy skin from an unaffected area of the body and moves it to the burned area. Depending on the situation, skin grafts may also utilize artificial skin rather than skin from another part of the patient’s own body. Both this process and the burn itself may leave a scar. If your second-degree is mild, treating it at home in much the same way as you would a first-degree burn (over the counter pain medication, soaking it in cool water, and applying antibiotic cream) may be sufficient. However, if you experience a fever, excessive swelling, a foul-smelling drainage, blisters filled with green or brown fluid, or your burn doesn’t show signs of healing within 10 days, you should seek medical treatment.
- Third-Degree Burns – These burns cause severe damage and affect every layer of skin, going deep enough to even destroy hair follicles and sweat glands. Other symptoms include blisters that do not fully develop, the skin turning a brownish color or becoming waxy and white, and a rough leathery texture. Third-degree burns always require skin grafts and the likelihood of scarring is extremely high. Because these burns extend so deep into and through the skin and are often accompanied by nerve damage, a person might not experience any pain with third-degree burns. If you have experienced a third-degree burn, you should immediately contact emergency medical personnel. In addition to requiring skin grafts, these burns often leave the skin scarred and contracted, and the sooner you seek and receive treatment the better off you will be. Some patients experiencing third-degree burns may benefit from additional fluids (possibly intravenously) to prevent the body from going into shock or becoming severely dehydrated.
- Fourth-Degree Burns – These burns completely destroy the nerves, so victims do not feel pain in the immediate area where nerves were destroyed. They cause damage even deeper than third-degree burns, affecting both layers of skin and deeper tissue. They might even go so far as to damage muscle and bone. Fourth-degree burns are more likely to result in amputation if they cover a limb or digit. These burns usually give the skin a charred appearance (though it might be white) and you may see bone and/or muscle tissue. These burns can require extended hospital stays and aftercare, such as physical or occupational therapy, or in the case of an amputation, prosthetic devices. As with third-degree burns, fourth-degree burns should never be treated at home. Seek medical care immediately.
Gwinnett County Burn Injury FAQs
Burn injuries can be among the most serious injuries a person can sustain. They can occur almost anywhere—at work, at home, in your car, at the pool, at the park, or at the beach. They can range from an irritating and painful sunburn to a life-threatening emergency or even a cause of death. Simply put, burns result from exposure to too much heat, whether that heat comes from the sun or other radiation, flame, steam, or other direct heat sources, or from chemical or electrical sources.
Regardless of the cause, burns involved the same kind of damage to skin or flesh. Burns can be mild, such as sunburns or a brief scalding, that result in a reddening of the skin and some topical pain but require only home treatment, such as one of the many spray treatments including SolarCaine or Biofreeze that ease minor topical burn pain. They also can be more serious and require more professional medical treatment, or even extremely serious injuries that can call for specialized care at dedicated burn treatment facilities and involve months of follow-up care.
Unfortunately, burns are a leading cause of injuries to children, with nearly one in four burn injuries occurring among children who are 14 years old or younger. As with most people, these burns result from contact with flames or hot objects, scalding by steam, electrical burns, or chemical burns. Including children, nearly three-fourths of people admitted to burn centers were burned by fire or scalding, while about 9 percent were burned by contact with a hot surface, 4 percent suffered electrical burns, 3 percent suffered chemical burns, and another 7 percent were burned by other causes.
Because burns can occur virtually anywhere, and to anyone, you might have questions about burn injuries, including:
How are burns classified?
The severity of burns is rated on a three-step scale based on how badly the burn damages skin and tissue.
- First-degree burns include most sunburns, but also minor scaldings from steam, such as a brief exposure to steam while cooking, or touching a hot surface briefly. These result in damage to the surface layer of skin that is normally limited to a reddening of the skin, minor pain for a while, and perhaps minor blistering.
- Second-degree burns are more serious and always result in blistering as well as damage that goes below the first layer or two of skin. Severe second-degree burns can result in scarring.
- Third-degree burns penetrate all the layers of skin and affect tissue beneath the skin, burning to the bone in extreme cases. These are the most severe burns and can be quite serious, even resulting in death.
While first-degree burns heal in a few days, and second-degree burns in a few weeks, third-degree burns usually require skin grafts and can take months to heal. Third-degree burns, in particular, can cause serious complications, including infection, severe scarring, and physical disfigurement.
Thus, third-degree burns carry not only physical, medical, and financial implications with respect to treatment and recovery, they also bring psychological implications because of the potential change in a person’s physical appearance. Also, permanent skin damage from third-degree burns can result in fragile skin, subsequent skin injuries, infections, the need for skin grafts and the possibility of skin graft failures, and other complications. This can result in the need for significant long-term care at the cost of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Can I seek compensation for my damages if I suffer a burn injury?
As with any injury, if another party is at fault, under most circumstances, you can file a claim for compensation. You can sue for any injury, but you can only recover damages if you can show your injury was the result of another person’s negligence.
If a burn injures my child, can I seek compensation?
You certainly can, on your child’s behalf, but you still have to establish that your child’s injury was the result of another person’s negligence, just as you would if you suffered the injury yourself.
Who can I sue for damages from a burn injury?
Any party who might be responsible for a burn injury can be held liable for that injury. You still must show that person’s negligent or intentional behavior resulted in the burn injury. You can potentially sue more than one party for a burn injury, including property owners, business operators, product manufacturers, and private individuals. However, you have to establish that the person you are suing is responsible for the burn injury, whether through negligence or intentional behavior.
Burn injuries can result from product defects, accidents in the workplace, accidents at home, traffic accidents, or other causes. The key to holding another party liable for the injury still lies in showing that their negligence caused the injury.
How long should I wait to contact an attorney about my burn injury?
You should contact an attorney as soon as possible. Burn injuries can be extremely serious. The longer you wait to have an injury investigated, the more difficult it is to uncover evidence and determine fault. Burn injuries that are separate from work injuries or traffic accident injuries can require much more investigative effort to determine fault.
Witness statements, reports from investigating government agencies, investigation of physical evidence at the scene—all of this requires a quick response. The accident scene will not be undisturbed for long, and witnesses who are not interviewed quickly might not have as accurate la memory of what happened.
Starting an investigation quickly matters. When you do, the evidence and the memories of witnesses are fresh. This can be critical. For example, if a defective product caused your injury, the investigation should happen before the items responsible for the burn injury are repaired. This would include potentially faulty machines or motor vehicles that might have malfunctioned because of faulty repairs or maintenance and caused the accident resulting in the burn injury. Further, the accident scene should be examined before it is cleaned up or rebuilt if the investigation is to accurately establish fault for the burn injury.
To establish fault for a burn injury, you need to identify the cause of the injury; what safety measures were in place to prevent such an injury; whether the person in control of the ability to prevent a burn injury acted negligently or willfully in failing to prevent the injury; and determining the severity of the injury suffered and the amount of damages that will be required to sufficiently recompense the victim for the injuries suffered. All of this requires quick action on the part of the victim and the victim’s representatives, including retaining an attorney.
Is there a limit on how long I can wait to file a claim?
Under Georgia law, you have two years to file a personal injury claim. It would be foolish to wait that long, however, as evidence grows stale, witnesses grow forgetful, accident scenes get cleaned up, and it simply becomes more difficult to prove a case. As with most accidents, investigating it quickly is the key to investigating it successfully. While the law permits you to wait as long as two years to file a claim, it is seldom a good idea to wait anywhere near that long. Any delay only complicates proving your claim.
Why does insurance coverage matter?
No matter who you believe is responsible for your burn injury, whether it is a company or an individual, the treatment of burn injuries can be extremely expensive. Severe burn injuries in particular often require skin grafts and other surgeries—sometimes repeated grafts and other surgeries—and ongoing therapy and other care that can last for months or even years.
Such care can be extremely expensive, and the total liability can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Few individuals can afford to pay for such care without assistance if they are found liable, so the insurance coverage of the individual responsible for your injury can become very important. If the person responsible for your burn injury is not extremely wealthy, then it matters if they are well-insured.
By the same token, if a corporation is responsible for your burn injury, it matters if the company has adequate liability insurance. Whatever the case, the insurance coverage the responsible party has is an important issue.
Will I need to pay for expert witnesses?
The answer is no, but also yes. Most attorneys who will take an injury case work on a contingency basis—they take a percentage of the amount your settlement or award, plus expenses. An expert witness counts as an expense. While there are ways to minimize the fees that must be paid to an expert witness, in burn injury cases, liability experts often are necessary. These experts could include accident reconstruction witnesses, mechanical engineers, fire investigators, or other experts who can help establish liability for a burn injury.
Further, depending upon the severity of your injuries, you might need medical experts to help establish the amount of care you will need in the future, including therapy and rehabilitation, and the cost of that future care. The cost of these experts will be deducted from your recovery as expenses, but usually, they also will be included in the amount of your damages claim. Ultimately, it should be a wash, and expert witness fees should not reduce the amount of the compensation you receive.
What kinds of damages can I recover?
In general, you can recover all of your existing medical expenses as well as any future medical expenses you can establish with reasonable certainty. You also should recover lost wages for missed time at work as well as damages for pain and suffering, lost future income, or earning capacity that can be reasonably established. To recover for emotional distress in Georgia, you must show some sort of physical impact on your body or actual monetary loss. In burn injury cases, you may prove both.
Should I hire a lawyer?
If we haven’t made this clear yet, yes—retain an attorney after suffering a burn injury. The more serious your burn injury, the less likely you can handle your own case. Further, you almost undoubtedly are not qualified to go head-to-head with an insurance adjuster who has handled such cases dozens of times, if not more, compared to you on your first attempt at such a case. In the rare case, you suffered your burn injury in an automobile accident.
Even then, with your own insurance adjuster on your side, you probably lack the experience to go up against an insurance adjuster with a career’s worth of negotiating experience. You are unlikely to obtain the settlement you deserve. If you hire an attorney, you are far more likely to wind up with a settlement that will amply compensate you for the injuries you have suffered.
Will my claim for a burn injury settle out of court?
Maybe. Most personal injury cases settle before going to trial. If you settle before going to trial, you receive compensation earlier than you otherwise might have. If you trust your attorney, then you will believe you received the compensation to which you were entitled.
If you go to trial, you may receive less than you might have in a settlement, and it also is possible you will receive nothing at all if a jury decides the party you are suing bore no responsibility for your injury. That is the chance you must decide whether to take. Settlements are not bad—they provide certainty, and a payout before a court judgment would.
Who Can You Hold Responsible?
If you were burned due to the negligence of another person, it is possible, though not guaranteed, that you may recover compensation for the monetary damages you incurred as a result of your burn injury. Situations in which another person may be held responsible include workplace injuries caused by inadequate safety measures, faulty wiring in your rental property, coming into contact with exposed electrical lines, or a defective product.
If you feel another person is responsible for your injury, be sure to document all of the costs associated with your care, including your initial hospital stay, therapy, follow up surgery, home care, and medical supplies required for your ongoing care.
Call Our Burn Injury Attorneys if Someone Injured You
If you or a loved one has experienced a burn injury because of someone else’s negligence, then seek the advice of our experienced Gwinnett county burn injury lawyers. Brauns Law stands ready to provide a no-cost consultation and evaluation of your case. Contact the firm here or call (404) 418-8244.