The amount of compensation that victims can recover for a burn injury will depend on numerous factors. These include the nature and severity of the injury and whether the victim was partially at fault. Most burn injury lawsuits, though, tend to recover between a few thousand dollars and several million dollars.
How much compensation can I expect in a burn injury claim?
Victims who have suffered a burn injury are entitled to compensation for their legal damages. A victim’s legal damages are equal to their losses from the injury. These include:
- medical bills,
- lost wages and other lost income,
- property damage,
- lost earning capacity,
- pain and suffering,
- emotional distress, and
- loss of consortium.
If the victim was hurt due to exceptionally bad behavior by the defendant, he or she may also be entitled to punitive damages. These damages goes beyond just compensating the victim. They are meant to punish the victim for especially bad behavior. Verdicts that include punitive damages are very rare, though. They are almost never a part of a settlement agreement.
The amount of a victim’s legal damages, however, are reduced if the victim was partially at-fault for the accident and their injuries. Different states have different rules for these shared fault situations:
- contributory negligence states, like Virginia,1 bar all recovery if the victim’s conduct contributed to the accident, at all,
- pure comparative negligence states, like California,2 reduce the victim’s recovery by the percentage of fault they brought to the accident or their injuries, and
- modified comparative negligence states, Texas,3 reduce the compensation by the percentage of fault, and also bar recovery if the victim was primarily to blame.
These shared fault rules can drastically reduce the amount of compensation that a victim can recover for their burn injury.
While the state’s shared fault rules are a huge factor in the victim’s potential compensation, other factors will matter, too. These include:
- the severity of the burn injuries,
- where the injuries occurred, on the body,
- whether the victim will ever fully recover,
- whether the injuries will prevent the victim from doing something they enjoyed, before the accident,
- whether the burns will impact the victim’s spouse or loved ones,
- the victim’s occupation or education level, which will matter for determining his or her lost wages and earning capacity,
- the victim’s age, and
- whether the burn injury will leave a lasting disfigurement or scarring that could cause emotional distress.
Because there are so many factors involved, no two burn injury cases are alike. Because all cases are different, there is no such thing as an “average” claim. With no average case, it is impossible to say what would be an “average” amount of burn injury compensation. In some cases, the victim’s role in the accident and their resulting injuries is significant enough that they end up recovering nothing. In others, the victim receives millions of dollars. Many cases fall between these extremes.
The best way to get an idea of a potential compensation or settlement amount is to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer or burn injury lawyer.
How does this compare to other personal injury claims?
While these is no such thing as an “average” burn injury claim, these injuries tend to recover more compensation than other types of personal injury lawsuits, like for car accidents.
Burn injuries are widely known to be extremely painful. Many jury members have burned themselves, before. They often compare the pain of their relatively minor burns to the severe burns that the victim has experienced, and award more in compensation for the victim’s physical pain and suffering. Skin grafts can also lead juries to award more in compensation for physical pain. This tendency will trickle down into burn injury settlement discussions.
In addition to being painful, burn injuries tend to leave extensive and permanent scarring and disfigurements. This can increase the victim’s legal damages for emotional distress. Dealing with the visual reminder of an extremely painful ordeal can be mentally and emotionally taxing. The reaction that members of the public can have to the disfigurement can also be demoralizing.
Finally, burn injuries can cause long-term or permanent disabilities. Burns that affect the victim’s joints, muscles, or tendons can cause lasting damage. The physical therapy for these injuries is extremely painful. In many cases, the medical recovery is only partial.
What are some common types of burn injuries?
Burn injuries are classified by degrees:
- first-degree burns are the least severe and only impact the epidermis, the outer layer of skin,
- second-degree burns impact both the epidermis and the layer of skin beneath it, the dermis, while
- third-degree burns are the most severe, destroying both the epidermis and the dermis, and potentially affecting the underlying tissues.
There are also fourth-degree burns, fifth-degree burns, and sixth-degree burns. These serious burns tend to be fatal, though, unless the victim receives immediate and effective medical attention.
The severity of a burn injury is also determined by how much body surface it impacts. Larger burns are more severe than smaller ones.
What are some common causes?
Burns can be caused in several different ways, including:
- radiation, and
Thermal burn injuries are the most well-known and likely the most common. These happen when the victim comes into contact with excessive heat. This can happen from prolonged exposure to a hot surface, flame, or even sunlight. It also includes a scalding burn from a flammable or hot liquid.
Certain types of burn injuries can cause additional problems and more complex medical care. For example, if the chemical gets into the victim’s eyes or lungs, it can cause chemical burns that injure those vital organs.
The cause of the burn can determine the type of personal injury case that can be filed. For example, electrical burns that result from faulty wiring in a defective product or appliance can lead to a product liability claim.
Can I recover workers’ compensation?
Victims who have been burned while on the job may be entitled to workers’ compensation. If they are, they will likely be unable to file a personal injury claim against whoever was responsible for the workplace accident that caused their burn injuries.
Workers’ compensation is an expedited way for injured workers to recover some of what they are entitled to receive from their employer. The process does not require a lawsuit, which may create conflict between the worker and his or her employer. However, the workers’ compensation structure in most states limits what victims can recover. Pain and suffering damages are often unavailable in workers’ compensation claims.
How long does a burn injury lawsuit take?
Burn injury victims who take their claim to court can find that the process can take as long as several years. However, if a settlement is reached early in the process, it may take as little as a few months. A personal injury attorney can help.
In many cases, the victim will be approached by a representative from the responsible party’s insurance company. This can happen as soon as a few days after the accident that burned the victim. The victim will receive a settlement offer. If the offer is accepted, the victim will have to waive all of his or her rights to file a lawsuit. The case ends immediately.
For severe burn injuries, it may be a wise strategy to not file a personal injury claim right away. By waiting until just before the statute of limitations expires, the victim can progress further with his or her medical treatment. This can reduce the uncertainty of estimating future medical expenses. However, if the statute of limitations passes before the lawsuit is filed, it can be easily dismissed.
Burn victims should strongly consider establishing an attorney-client relationship with a burn injury attorney from a reputable law firm and getting their legal advice. Doing so right after an injury can help their lawyer build the best case possible.
- See, e.g., Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017).
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975).
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.