Burn Injury Law: Liability & How to File a Lawsuit

Burn injuries can be caused by product defects, workplace injuries, or another person's negligence. The person or company responsible for the burn injury is liable to the victim for damages. Even if the injury victim was partially to blame for the accident, he or she could be awarded partial damages based on the defendant's level of fault.

Burn accident injuries can cause financial losses including loss of a job, medical bills, and continuing medical care. A personal injury lawsuit can help victims and their families recover damages, including:

Common causes of burn injuries include:

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about burn injury lawsuits:

If you have further questions about burn injury accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Burn injury
The person or company responsible for the burn injury is liable to the victim for damages.

1. How do I file a burn injury lawsuit?

A personal injury lawsuit allows victims of wrongful actions to seek money damages for physical injuries and financial losses. Burn injury lawsuits are generally based on:

Injury victims and their families can file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. However, there is a time limit to how long the victim has to file a claim. 

1.1. Burn Injuries Caused by Negligence

Negligence is the wrongful actions (or inaction) of an individual, group, or company that causes harm to another. The injury victim has to prove the following elements to win a personal injury case based on negligence:

someone doing something that causes an injury to another person. A plaintiff has to prove the following elements in a lawsuit based on negligence:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty; and
  3. The defendant's breach was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.12
Example: Rick is at the beach with a group of friends on the 4th of July. Rick has some fireworks he bought outside of California. Rick thinks it would be funny to toss some of the fireworks into the bonfire and give his friends a scare.
Rick throws some firecrackers into the fire. The firecrackers explode, which sets Liz's hair on fire, causing burn injuries to her face and ears.
Liz may be able to file a personal injury claim against Rick. Rick was negligent in throwing illegal firecrackers into a bonfire with other people nearby. Rick's actions caused Liz to suffer burn injuries. Rick may be liable to Liz for her damages caused by the firecracker accident.

Under California's “comparative fault” laws, the plaintiff can still recover partial damages even if he or she was partly to blame for the accident. The plaintiff's damages are reduced by the plaintiff's own share of the fault and the defendants are liable for the remaining portion of damages.3

1.2. Burn Injuries Caused by a Defective Product

When a defective product causes a burn injury, the company that produced or sold the product may be liable for damages, even if no individual person was negligent. Under most state product liability laws, whoever designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for any injuries caused by the product.4

Strict liability cases can include the following types of product defects:

In a product liability lawsuit for burn injuries, the victim has to prove:

  1. The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed, or sold the defective product;
  2. The product contained a manufacturing, design, or warning defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The victim used the product in a reasonably foreseeable way; and
  4. The product defect was a substantial factor in causing the victim's harm.5
Example: Thornton bought his son, Lucien, a hoverboard for his birthday. Thornton researched hoverboards and bought a model made by Dag's Hoverboards and sold by DarkSpace Toys. Lucien was using the hoverboard when it suddenly burst into flames, burning Lucien on the legs. Thornton took Lucien to the ER for treatment.
Thornton talks to a lawyer about the product and finds out a defective battery caused the fire. Thornton files a product liability lawsuit against Dag's Hoverboards and DarkSpace Toys. Dag's Hoverboards says they were not negligent. DarkSpace Toys says it was not their fault either because they did not know the hoverboard was defective.
However, Thornton does not need to prove negligence in a product liability lawsuit. Thornton can recover damages if he can show: (1) the defendant's manufactured or sold the defective hoverboard; (2) the hoverboard was defective when it left the defendants' possession; (3) Lucien used the hoverboard in a foreseeable manner; and (4) the defective hoverboard caused Lucien's injuries.

1.3. Premises Liability in Burn Injuries

If a burn accident happens on another person's property, the property owner may be liable for damages if the burn injury was caused by a hazard on the property. Under premises liability laws, property owners and occupiers have to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition.

Property owners have a duty of care to inspect and maintain their property, repair dangerous conditions, and/or give warnings about any dangerous conditions.6

Example: Madeleine had a hot tub in her backyard. Madeleine kept the hot tub really hot and had a friend alter the thermostat so it could go above the maximum temperature. Madeleine put the hot tub cover on when she was having a holiday party at her house.
Todd was a guest at Madeleine's party and brought his two small children. The children asked Madeleine if they could swim in the pool and Madeleine said they could. A few minutes later, the children came into the house covered in burns. They had taken the cover off the hot tub and jumped in to warm up after swimming.
Todd may have a premises liability claim against Madeleine. Madeleine's scalding hot tub may have been considered a hazard to small children who were visiting her house. Madeleine covered the hot tub but did not warn Todd about the hazard and did not secure the cover to prevent the children from accessing the hot water. Madeleine may be liable for damages.

2. What damages are available after a burn injury?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the injury victim is looking for money to pay for their damages caused by the accident. These are known as “compensatory damages.” Compensatory damages are supposed to compensate the plaintiff for economic and non-economic damages.

In some cases, a plaintiff can also sue for punitive damages. Punitive damages, or “exemplary damages,” are intended to punish the wrongdoer. However, punitive damages are generally limited to cases where the defendant's actions were:

  • Extremely reckless,
  • Malicious,
  • Oppressive,
  • Fraudulent, or
  • Intended to cause harm.7

2.1. Economic Damages for Burn Injuries

Economic damages include out-of-pocket costs, money the plaintiff has spent, or money the plaintiff will have to pay out in the future. In a burn injury accident, economic damages may include:

  • Medical bills,
  • Surgery,
  • Burn unit treatment,
  • Skin grafting procedures,
  • Lost wages,
  • Lost earning capacity, and
  • Property damage.

2.2. Non-economic Damages for Burn Injuries

Non-economic damages may be more difficult to quantify but are still part of the plaintiff's damages after an accident. This can include money damages to cover the plaintiff's losses for:

  • Emotional distress,
  • Disfigurement,
  • Physical impairment,
  • Scarring,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Loss of enjoyment in life, and
  • Loss of consortium.

2.3. How are damages calculated in a burn injury lawsuit?

Damages in a lawsuit may be decided by the judge or jury. The factfinder looks at the claimed damages and makes a determination for how much the plaintiff should receive. Past economic damages can be calculated by looking at medical bills, financial records, and repair costs.

Economic damages also include future expenses. In these situations, an expert may submit a report and testify about the likely future costs to the plaintiff for things like:

  • Future medical treatment,
  • In-home care estimates,
  • Insurance payments and coverage, and
  • How much the plaintiff would have earned if he or she was not injured in the accident.

3. What are the damages if a loved one was killed in a fire?

If someone is killed in a fire or burn injury accident, the victim is no longer alive to file a personal injury lawsuit on their own behalf. Instead, certain family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit will allow the surviving family to recover damages and hold the wrongdoer responsible for their actions.8

In most cases, eligible family members who can file a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Spouses;
  • Domestic partners;
  • Children;
  • Grandchildren (if the children are deceased); or
  • Anyone else entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.

The money damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Funeral expenses,
  • Burial expenses,
  • Loss of services the deceased would have provided,
  • Loss of companionship, and
  • Loss of financial support the deceased would have provided.9

4. Burn Injury Treatment and Costs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2011, there were nearly 486,000 burn injuries that received medical treatment. Over 3,000 people died in the U.S. in 2011 because of residential and vehicle fires, including deaths from smoke inhalation.10

The causes of most of these burn injuries were from an open flame, scalding liquid, contact burns, electrical burns, or chemical burns. Almost three-fourths of the burn injuries occurred in the home.11

Moderate burn injuries can cost more than $200,000. Severe burn injuries can cost more than $1.5 million. If there are complications, a severe burn injury can cost more than $10 million.

Burn injuries can cause serious damage and require extensive medical treatment. Many patients require special treatment in a specialized burn unit. With serious burn injuries, there is an increased risk of complications, including:

  • Psychological complications,
  • Disfigurement,
  • Skin breakdown,
  • Infections, and
  • Skin graft failure.

5. Can I file a lawsuit if I suffered a burn injury at work?

If someone is injured on the job, recovery is generally handled through filing a workers' compensation claim. With workers' comp, the employee does not have to file a lawsuit or prove negligence.

Workers' comp is a type of no-fault insurance that pays for the employee's medical costs and provides partial wage replacement. However, other non-economic damages are generally not available.

In some cases, an employee injured at work may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit if the accident is:

  • Caused by a third-party;
  • Caused by intentional action to harm the employee;
  • Aggravated by something the employer fraudulently conceals; or
  • The employer does not have workers' compensation insurance at the time of the accident.
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Call us for help...

For questions about burn injuries and burn accident lawsuits or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

  1. California Civil Code Section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 400. Negligence -- Essential Factual Elements.
  3. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405. See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. (“... you must then decide how much responsibility each has by assigning percentages of responsibility to each person listed on the verdict form. The percentages must total 100 percent.”).
  4. Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
  5. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1200 -- Products Liability.
  6. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements. See also Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358.
  7. California Civil Code Section 3294 -- Exemplary Damages. ((a)” In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”)
  8. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  9. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3921. See also Vander Lind v. Superior Court (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 358; and Allen v. Toledo (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 415.
  10. American Burn Association -- Burn Incidence Fact Sheet.
  11. Same.

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