If you have suffered a burn injury as the result of an accident caused by the negligence of someone else, you may be entitled to claim compensation.
Burn injuries can range from minor household burns and scalds to very serious injuries. There are various types of burn injury, including:
• Chemical burns – these can occur when the skin comes into contact with caustic or corrosive chemicals.
• Thermal burns – if the skin is exposed to extreme heat, for example in a fire or explosion or from touching a hot, metal object, this will result in thermal burns.
• Electrical burns – when a person receives an electric shock there will often be burns to the skin, however the majority of the damage is usually internal.
• Friction burns – when the skin is dragged against a surface, particularly if the surface is abrasive, this may cause a friction burn. Friction also generates heat, so some additional thermal burning may occur.
• Cold burns / frostbite – prolonged contact with cold substances, such as snow and ice, or any contact with chemicals like liquid nitrogen or dry ice that are extremely cold, can cause a cold burn (also known as frostbite).
• Scalds - a scald is a burn caused by contact with very hot liquid or vapour, for example boiling water, coffee or steam.
• Radiation burns – the most common type of radiation burn is sunburn, either from exposure to natural sun or through sunbed use. Radiation burns can also occur following radiotherapy treatment (often used for cancer patients) or other sources of radiation.
• Inhalation burns – if a person inhales very hot air, say in a fire, or certain chemical fumes, they may suffer burns to their upper airways, nose and mouth and even damage to the lungs.
Children and the elderly are especially at risk of harm from burn injuries, as their skin is more delicate.
Burns are generally classified as first degree, second degree or third degree (usually now referred to as superficial thickness, partial thickness and full thickness). This describes the severity of the damage caused.
Superficial or first degree burns only affect the outer layers of the skin, partial thickness or second degree burns affect deeper layers of the skin, sometimes involving blistering and a degree of nerve damage, and full thickness or third degree burns refer to cases where there is damage to all layers of the skin, nerves and often underlying tissues. Most full thickness burns will require extensive medical treatment, usually including skin grafts.
A further classification, fourth degree burns, refers to burns so severe that all layers of the skin are destroyed and there is damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments. These burns are extremely serious and are often fatal.
There are many circumstances under which a burn injury can occur. A major cause is accidents in the home, particularly in the kitchen through the use of cooking appliances and from spillages of hot food and liquids.
Although some accidents are simply that and they could not have been prevented, others are caused by negligence or a breach of a statutory regulation. A few examples might include a scald received at a café because of a defective cup provided with a hot drink, faulty work equipment causing an electric shock, an accident caused by insufficient health and safety measures or PPE in place for the handling of chemicals or a child burnt by an uncovered hot pipe in an accident at school.
There are also certain cases where burn injuries can occur due to medical negligence. For example a lack of care taken during procedures using diathermy.
The immediate effects of a burn injury can include:
• Peeling skin
• Respiratory problems (in the case of inhalation burns, smoke inhalation)
• Shock - a major factor in burn injuries, caused by a loss of fluid from the body
• Infection - the skin is the protective barrier used by the body to keep out germs, so when it is damaged the risk of infection is high.
• Kidney failure – with very serious burns, the stress on the body from infection or loss of fluid can be such that the kidneys are unable to function.
Minor burns and scalds can often be treated at home, however if a person has sustained a burn that is deep, larger than the size of their palm, or there is blistering or charring, they should be taken to hospital immediately. The same applies if they are having difficulty breathing, they seem disorientated or unwell or the burns are affecting the face, hands, feet or genitals.
Dependent upon the severity of the burn injury, in the long term the injured person may suffer some of the following effects:
• Scarring – the scarring left by a burn may be limited to a small area of skin that is slightly different in appearance to that surrounding it, or it may be more severe, affecting large areas of the body and causing disfigurement.
• Skin sensitivity – where new skin has formed after a burn injury has healed, or skin grafts have been used, the affected area can be left more sensitive and delicate than before.
• Photosensitivity – skin that has been burnt in the past will usually be more sensitive to sunlight and should always be protected by sunscreen as it is susceptible to sun damage.
• Restricted movement – scar tissue does not have the elasticity of normal skin and so extensive scarring can be restrictive, particularly if it is over a joint.
• Trauma /emotional injuries – a person who has been left with scarring from a burn injury, or who sustained burns in a distressing incident may be left with psychological injuries.
• Loss of confidence – burn victims may feel less confident or self conscious if their injury has caused extensive scarring or disfigurement. Burn injuries can also result in varying degrees of disability, leaving the person unable to do things that they could do before.
Following a serious burn injury, there may be a need for lifelong treatment, both to deal with the physical and emotional effects.
With any personal injury claim, it is necessary to show that the person you are making a claim against owed you a duty of care, that they breached that duty of care (were negligent), and that the injury you sustained was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of that negligence. There may also be a breach of a statutory requirement thus giving rise to liability.
It is important to seek the advice and assistance of a specialist personal injury lawyer with extensive experience in recovering compensation for victims of burn injuries. They can collate and prepare all of the necessary evidence to put forward the compensation claim and deal with the matter on your behalf to achieve the best possible outcome.
You should try to record as much information as possible about the accident and your injuries, including details of any medical treatment that you have received and how your burn injury affects you. Remember to keep receipts for any injury related costs and expenses, as these may be useful in your claim.
There are two elements to a burn injury compensation award. The first is for the pain and suffering you have gone through and what is known as loss of amenity. This is called general damages and can include an award for your inability to do things after the accident that you used to be able to do before (e.g. wash your car, look after your garden, walk the dog etc). The award for loss of amenity can be for a short period after an accident or for ever if that is what the medical evidence supports.
The second element of a compensation award is for your losses and expenses and is known as special damages. It is important to keep receipts for any expenditure you have related to your burn injury, so that these can be reclaimed. The aim is to put you back in a position financially as if the accident had never occurred.
In serious injury cases, where a person may no longer be able to continue their employment, this can be taken into account. Costs for care, equipment, transport and housing modifications can also be factored into the calculations. If the person is still able to work but not in the same role as before, particularly if they held a public service role such as a doctor or police officer, an extra amount may be awarded for loss of ‘congenial employment’. A court can also make a financial award to recognise that an injured worker's prospects on the open labour market may be limited.
If a person is fatally injured, a dependent relative such as a widow and children may be able to claim a statutory sum for their bereavement and funeral expenses, but also sums for the loss of income and contribution to the household in the form of future losses. Parents whose child was under 18 and unmarried at the time of their death may also be entitled to claim a statutory bereavement award.
Our lawyers are specialists in all areas of personal injury, clinical negligence and industrial disease, with extensive experience in recovering damages on behalf of victims of burn injuries.
The Legal Line can provide clear, sympathetic, expert advice on your potential personal injury claim and assist you throughout the process to ensure the best possible outcome.
Our lawyers have successfully dealt with many compensation claims on behalf of burn injury victims. Examples of some of these cases can be found by following the links below or visiting our personal injury news and success stories sections: