A serious burn is a painful and potentially deadly injury. Serious burns result in lengthy hospitalization, which may include reparative or plastic surgery, as well as extended rehabilitation therapy. Many burn victims die from complications such as infection, low blood volume (hypovolemia) caused by damage to the circulatory system, or respiratory problems caused by breathing hot air or smoke.
If serious burns were caused by someone else’s negligence, the at-fault party may be held liable for the victim’s losses, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Severity and Sources of Serious Burn Injuries
Fire or open flame caused 43 percent of serious burn injuries that required treatment at a specialized burn care center between 2003-2012, according to The American Burn Association’s fact sheet.
The vast majority of fatal burn injuries occur in residential fires (house, apartment, condo), but serious burn injuries are also caused by negligence that leads to contact with electricity, scalding liquids, or hot objects, corrosive chemicals, and other sources.
Burns are also commonly identified by source or type:
- Thermal burns caused by contact with open flame or hot objects (space heaters, stove burners, clothes irons), or other hot metal, glass, plastic, or coals.
- Scalds caused by hot liquid, fluid, or vapor, such as bath water, overheated beverages, steam, tar, oil, grease, and others.
Chemical burns caused by contact with corrosive or toxic chemicals, such as paint thinner, gasoline, lye, strong acids, and alkali substances.
- Electrical burns caused by electrical current passing through the body or by being struck by lightning.
- Radiation or radiological burns, which involve radiation from X-rays or radiation therapy in cancer treatment, ultraviolet light from a sunlamp or tanning bed, natural sunburns, and flash burns to the eyes from a welding torch or similar source.
Burns are classified according to severity:
- First-degree burns are painful but not dangerous. They cause damage to the outer layer of skin (epidermis) that makes it red and dry, but the skin does not blister.
- Second-degree burns damage the outer skin and a part of the next layer of skin (dermis). The skin becomes red and blistered, and may swell. A second-degree burn may cause severe pain and may leave a scar.
- Third-degree burns are serious injuries. Damage reaches beyond the skin to the level of fat under the dermis and can destroy nerves. Skin may become stiff, waxy white, or leathery and tan. The nerve damage in a third-degree burn may cause the victim to feel numbness instead of pain.
- Fourth-degree burns are potentially fatal. This is deep damage, extending to muscle, tendons, and bones. The skin may be blackened or charred where it has not been burned away. Because of extensive nerve damage, a fourth-degree burn victim may feel no pain.
Serious burns (third- and fourth-degree burns) may cause the victim to go into shock. The organs of a person in shock don’t get proper blood or oxygen, which can lead to permanent organ damage or death if not treated promptly.