What is My Burn Injury Case Worth?

In reflecting on the injury cases I have handled, the two most horrific injuries a human being can suffer as a result of someone’s negligence are burns and brain injuries. Burns leave the victim with a lifetime of disfigurement, pain, and all the emotional damage that comes with the first two elements. Traumatic brain leave the victim with a lifetime of cognitive difficulties and even disturbing physical presentations, such as tics and speech problems. This post focuses on the a recent burn case we were able to resolve before before any witness was deposed.

The Facts

This case involved an alleged defective pressure cooker. Our client was a lady in her forties who had vast experience with pressure cooker. What her experience could not prepare her for was the alleged defect – the pressure cooker pressurized before the lid was in the locked position. This meant the lid was vulnerable to being blown off under certain conditions, whereas, if locked, nothing could have removed the lid under pressure short of a hydraulic wrench.

One afternoon, this nice lady placed the pressure cooker on the stove to simmer for an hour. Believing the lid was in the locked position, she went to move the pot to a cool stove top after sufficient time for cooking. When she moved the pot, however, the lid blew off and a boiling mixture of grease and water sprayed her from her face to the tops of her feet. The victim was rushed to the burn unit where she was treated for second degree burns.

When we hear of burns that result in permanent scarring and skin discoloration, we typically think of third degree burns or fourth degree burns (burn injuries we can easily see). But, while our client was diagnosed and treated for second degree burns that typically heal, these burns can sometimes lead to permanent discoloration, especially in people with darker pigmented skin. Our client was darkly complected, so the burn areas showed up white and included raised bumps in some places.

The Settlement

The pot manufacturer had very experienced counsel who were able to identify the risks to the company early on. After we produced medical records and defense counsel had a good grip on what the company would face in trial, she agreed to talk. We settled the case in the mid six-figures, which mainly went to cover past pain and suffering and disfigurement. Unfortunately, skin grafting did not appear to be an option to remedy the discoloration, so future surgeries were not a consideration in the settlement negotiations.

The Nuances of Burn Injuries

Types of Burn Injuries

  • Chemical burns are caused by exposure to harmful chemicals. Several types include acid burn due to contact with a strong acid, alkali burn caused by contact with a strong base, and scalding burn from hot liquids or vapors. This burn destroys the subcutaneous tissue of the skin.
  • Electrical Burns are caused when the body becomes electrically charged in an electrical accident. The spark that ignites combustible materials can also cause injury.
  • Flash/ flame burns: Caused by contact with fire or hot gasses.
  • Contact burn caused by touching something hot. It is the most common type of burn.
  • Surface burns are caused by contact with a hot or cold surface, such as stepping on a hot pan or touching something icy.
  • Scalding is caused by contact with hot liquids or steam. It can be very dangerous because children are more vulnerable to this type of injury. Scald burns range from mild (first-degree) to severe (fourth-degree).

Levels of Burns

The severity level can be categorized into four types: first-degree burn, second-degree burn, third-degree burn, and fourth-degree burns

First Degree Burns

First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin. The most common example is when someone touches a hot object. The skin turns red, but it heals quickly and without blisters.

Second Degree Burns

Second-degree burns affect the top layer of skin – epidermis – and a deeper layer called the dermis. It usually results in blistering of the skin. More serious second degree burns are often caused by scalding liquids, flames, hot metal, and hot oil. More often than not, these burns heal completely.

Third Degree Burns

Third-degree burns can be life-threatening as they affect all the skin layers and destroy the nerve endings. These burns can result in white or charred skin because they destroy the skin’s protective layer. 

They may also damage underlying muscle and other tissues. In addition, a third-degree burn takes a long time to heal. Permanent scarring is likely.

Fourth Degree Burns

A fourth-degree burn injury damages the skin and other tissues beneath it. These burns are worse than third-degree burns. They are often caused by electrocution or chemicals such as lye or gasoline. 

Because the body can absorb these substances quickly, a fourth-degree burns injury may cause serious illness or death.

An individual who gets a first-degree burn experiences skin redness that turns into blisters. A patient with a second-degree burn will experience redness, some swelling, and possible blistering. Victims who suffered third-degree burns experience charring on the skin that feels leathery. The fourth-degree burns cause completely charred skin, which appears black.