According to the CDC, over 1 million burns requiring medical care occur every year. If you've recently been burned in an accident that prompted you to seek treatment from a doctor, you may be wondering what your options are. While you should always seek legal advice in these circumstances, here are three questions you probably want answered right now to determine whether you have a case.
Can you sue if you have a first-degree burn?
As you probably know, burns range in their severity and fall into one of four categories:
- First-degree burns only affect the outermost layer of skin, resulting in a red appearance and mild to moderate pain.
- Second-degree burns go a little deeper and make the skin red, pink, or white in appearance. The skin may look wet or dry, depending on the thickness of the burn, and blisters may also be present.
- Third-degree burns are more severe, as all layers of the skin are destroyed. The skin may turn white or black.
- Fourth-degree burns penetrate to the muscle and bone.
If you've suffered from a first-degree burn, you may wonder whether you have a case at all. Maybe someone has told you the injury doesn't "look" bad enough. But whether or not you have a case isn't determined by the classification of your burn. It's determined partly by the severity of your injuries.
For instance, most first-degree burns don't blister, and they end up healing on their own within a few days. But this isn't always guaranteed. Your burn could become infected, requiring visits to hospitals or doctors, pain medication, and fluid therapy. Anytime an injury occurs that prompts you to seek medical attention, and you feel the other party was negligent, you could have a case. So the answer to this question is yes, you may be able to sue even if you have a first-degree burn.
How do you determine who's negligent?
Proving negligence is a critical component in a burn-injury case, and the burden rests on the victim to prove the defendant was at fault. Therefore, it's important to seek professional advice from an attorney. Your personal-injury lawyer will work to establish that the defendant owed you a duty of care, that the duty was breached, and that the breach was what caused your burns. This is done by questioning witnesses, examining the scene of the accident or the product that caused the burn, and retrieving medical records.
For example, in one landmark case, a gentleman received second-degree burns when he took a bath in scalding hot water at a hotel. While this case was settled for over a quarter million dollars, the hotel likely would have been found negligent because they had a duty to protect their guests from water hot enough to burn.
However, suppose you're burned in an oven fire at your home. If the fire was caused by food that spilled inside the oven and not from a malfunction of the oven itself, proving negligence on the part of the defendant will be challenging.
How much can you win?
How much you can get in your burn-injury case will depend on the following factors:
- Lost wages
- The extent of your injuries
- Costs of treatment and medications
- The need for future medical care
- Traveling expenses to the doctor or hospital
- Amount of pain and suffering due to the injury itself or disfigurement
There are situations in which the court may find you partially liable, and this can reduce your compensation. For example, in the famous McDonald's coffee case, Stella Liebeck suffered from third-degree burns when she spilled her coffee. Her initial $200,000 award was reduced by 20% because it was determined that she was 20% responsible for her burns. But she was also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages because McDonald's was found to be grossly negligent; they had already received 700 complaints from customers who had received coffee burns. The case ultimately settled on appeal for less than the original $3 million. But as you can see, the amount you are entitled to will vary depending on your circumstances.
Contact a lawyer such as Jack W Hanemann, P.S. for help with your case.