St. Louis Burn Injury Lawyers
We Will Fight for You
Burns are serious, painful injuries that often result in permanent scarring, chronic pain, and severe emotional trauma. Burns often require emergency medical attention and ongoing care. If you suffered a burn injury as the result of someone else’s negligence, you could be entitled to reimbursement for your damages, including future scar revision surgeries to repair that scarring.
The Dixon Injury Firm can help you understand your legal rights and options. Our St. Louis burn injury lawyers have extensive experience handling catastrophic injury claims and can help you navigate the process. We understand the complexities involved in these types of claims and are ready to put all of our time, resources, and skill on your side.
Common Causes of Burn Injuries
Burns are a traumatic injury to the flesh or skin. Most people experience superficial or first-degree burns—the type of burn caused by touching a hot stove or getting a minor sunburn—at some point during in their lives. In most cases, superficial burns are not a cause for significant concern, and the pain associated with them can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, burns extending below the superficial layer of skin are far more serious and can result in severe and prolonged pain, blistering, scarring, and disfigurement, as well as disability and death. These burns, classified as “moderate” and “major,” require immediate medical attention and may involve extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation treatment.
Burns are most commonly caused by fires, but they can also result from direct contact with extreme heat, steam, electricity, and chemicals. Burns can range from minor to serious medical emergencies, depending on the area and depth of the affected skin.
Burns caused by motor vehicle accidents account for approximately 10% of all burn-related hospital admissions. The most frequent motor vehicle accident-related burn injuries stem from car radiators and carburetors.
There are numerous sources of burns, including:
- Heat burns, caused by fire, steam, hot objects, and hot liquids; fire is the most common cause of burn injuries, with scalding being most common among children, the disabled, and the elderly.
- Electrical burns, resulting from contact with electrical sources or lightening
- Chemical burns, caused by household or industrial chemicals, liquids, solids, or gasses
- Radiation burns, caused by the sun, tanning booths, sunlamps, x-rays, and radiation therapy
- Friction burns, caused by contact with hard or abrasive surfaces, such as the “road rash”/abrasions motorcyclists or bicyclists may suffer in an accident
- Cold burns, caused by the skin’s exposure to wet, windy, or cold conditions; frostbite is one of the most common types of cold burns
The vast majority of burns are accidental in nature and, in many cases, these injuries are highly preventable. With the implementation of numerous burn prevention programs and measures in recent years—mandated installation of smoke detectors and sprinkler systems, smoking ban ordinances, stiffer requirements regulating electrical and building design and construction, the introduction of fire-resistant clothing and textiles, heat-sensing controls for regulating water heat, etc.—the incidence of serious burns has declined dramatically.
Burn Injury Symptoms
When skin tissues are burned, fluid will leak into them from the blood vessels, resulting in inflammation and swelling. Moreover, damaged skin and nearby tissues are prone to infection because they can no longer perform as a barrier against disease-causing microorganisms or pathogens. Burns are categorized according to the extent of damage to the skin and nearby tissues.
Burn injury symptoms might include:
- Red, swollen skin on minor burns
- Pain on the affected area—the deeper the burn, the less painful it is, since the nerves that usually sense or detect pain are also frequently damaged
- Moist-looking skin
- Blisters on the affected area
- White to tan skin that is waxy or leathery in texture
- Charred or blackened skin in severe cases
Contact Our Firm for a Free Consultation
At The Dixon Injury Firm, our goal is to help you recover the maximum compensation you are entitled to receive for your burn injuries, whether that means settling with the insurance company or taking your case to trial. Our St. Louis burn injury lawyers have extensive experience in this area of law and understand the challenges you and your family are facing. We have successfully recovered more than $50 million for our clients, and we are ready to fight for you, too.
Your initial consultation is completely free, and we do not charge any attorneys’ fees unless/until we recover compensation for you. If we do not win your case, you do not pay.
Call our office today at (314) 208-2808 to schedule your free, confidential consultation.
How Are Burns Categorized?
Burns do not evenly affect the skin, so a single direct contact to a burn source can reach varying depths. Distinguishing a superficial burn from a life-threatening burn involves determining the degree of injury to the skin and nearby tissues.
There are four official classifications of burns:
- First-Degree Burns: A superficial burn that damages only the outmost layer of the skin or the epidermis. Redness and pain over the affected area can be felt, and this burn usually heals with first aid within only a few days or weeks.
- Second-Degree Burns: This type of burn affects both the outermost and the second layer of skin, or the dermis. Redness and pain are evident, accompanied by blisters or swelling. It often appears moist and, in time, this burn can cause a scar.
- Third-Degree Burns: This type of burn affects the epidermis, dermis, and the underlying subcutaneous tissue. The skin may look taut and different from a normal skin tissue. Third-degree burns often involve nerve destruction and, therefore, numbness and lesser pain compared to first-degree and second-degree burns.
- Fourth-Degree Burns: This is deepest type of burn, reaching into the deeper nerves, muscle, and bones. The skin typically looks blackened or charred. In this type of burn, pain is usually not felt due to total destruction of underlying nerves.
Burn Injury Treatment
Superficial (first- and second-degree) burns less than three inches can be treated with at-home first aid measures. Soaking the burned skin area with cool water for 5 to 15 minutes will reduce the heat caused by the inflammation of the damaged tissue. Wrapping the area with loose gauze will also prevent the burn from infection. The dressing must be replaced whenever dirty or at least once a day. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also soothe the pain and antibiotic ointment can also prevent infection.
In the case of a third- or fourth-degree burn, and if the person is unconscious or the affected area is large or on the sensitive areas, immediate medical assistance is advised. Electrical burns also require emergency care. Never remove any piece of clothing that gets stuck in the burned skin.
Burned skin is itchy when healing and sensitive to light. During the healing period, applying sunscreen on the burned skin can lessen the discomfort.
A burn causes cell and tissue damage, disrupting virtually all components vital for maintaining normal function of the skin. Touch, sensation, the ability to regulate water loss, and the ability to maintain a normal body temperature are impeded or lost. As cell membranes break down, the cells lose potassium and begin absorbing water and sodium. The body reacts to the injury with an overwhelming inflammatory response. Fluids leak from the capillaries into surrounding tissue, resulting in swelling. This, in turn, causes blood volume loss, with the remaining blood becoming increasingly concentrated. Blood flow to essential organs, such as the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract, may be disrupted and result in kidney (renal) failure and/or stomach ulcers. Stress hormone levels, necessary for survival and responsible for the flight-or-fight instinct, may increase dramatically, with pronounced deleterious effect on cardiac, circulatory, blood sugar, kidney, and liver functions.
Burn victims with moderate to major wounds need immediate medical intervention due to the high risk of shock. Victims are best cared for in a burn unit of a hospital or a burn center equipped to provide the specialized treatment they need. Treatment begins with assessment of the person’s airway, breathing, and circulation. Additionally, those injured in fires may have suffered smoke and heat inhalation injuries requiring intubation—the insertion of a tube for opening a swollen airway and/or clearing it of fluids and other inhaled debris.
After ensuring an adequate airway, the depth and extent of the injuries are assessed. Absence of pain and visible wounds are not good criteria for gauging wound severity. The absence of pain, as discussed earlier, can signify the burn has destroyed nerves; electrical and smoke inhalation injuries extend internally and may not be readily detectable. The patient should be checked for other injuries, such as fractures, and treated accordingly. All patients with moderate to major burns should undergo immediate evaluation for carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning and, if diagnosed, treated according to standard protocol.
The immediate administration of intravenous fluids, or “fluid therapy,” is key to stabilizing the patient, reducing the potential for complications, and increasing the prognosis for survival. How much fluid to give a patient, though, is not entirely clear. Fluid therapy must take several factors into consideration, including the depth and extent of the burns, age, whether there are pre-existing conditions that could compromise cardiopulmonary function, the potential for smoke inhalation injury (requiring additional fluids), etc. Patients must be constantly monitored to make sure that the fluid amounts administered are neither overloading their system nor insufficient for recovery.
The primary goal for treatment is to close the wound site as soon as possible to reduce the potential for infection and scarring. Hydrotherapy is routine, with the objective of removing dead or extensively damaged tissue while leaving newly formed skin intact. Topical agents are used to prevent bacterial and fungal infection. Patients with full-thickness burns require prompt surgical removal of dead skin and the replacement of skin with skin grafts. Limbs and body parts assessed as being non-viable may have to be amputated in order to prevent widespread infection, sepsis, and the potential for hemorrhage caused by dying blood vessels. Patients with smoke inhalation injuries may have to be placed on a mechanical ventilator to ensure adequate oxygenation and ventilation.
Burn patients are apt to experience significant pain as they undergo various procedures and constant manipulation of their wounds. Intravenous opioids, long-acting analgesics, anesthesia, and relaxants may be used to make the patient as comfortable as possible. Medications have to be administered intravenously, orally, or rectally due to the compromised absorption with injections.
Additionally, rehabilitation is an essential part of the burn patient’s treatment and recovery. Most people assume that rehabilitation of the burn victim would begin after the healing of the wounds and skin grafts when the patient is not in such acute discomfort. This is a common misconception. Rehabilitation should begin at the moment of admission and often extends for months and sometimes even years. Any delay in starting rehabilitation can result in greater complications, including a higher risk for irreversible and deforming contractures, impaired mobility and daily functioning, extensive and unstable scarring, and the loss of independence.
Rehabilitation involves a multi-disciplinary approach geared toward treating the physical, psychological, and social components of recovery, as patients are apt to experience significant difficulties in one or more of these critical areas. The family may be involved with rehabilitation treatment if deemed appropriate by the patient and his/her care team.
The goal of rehabilitation is to minimize the debilitating effects of the burn injury by helping the patient maintain the greatest range of motion possible, reduce the potential for the development and impact of contractures related to scarring, maximize functional ability, restore emotional well-being, and assist with re-integration into society.
Rehabilitation requires the coordinated and dedicated efforts of professionals from several fields—physicians, psychologists, family counselors, social workers, spiritual counselors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, physiotherapists, recreational therapists, nutritionists, vocational counselors, etc.—to assist the patient in reaching optimal recovery. Rehabilitation of the burn patient represents a continuum of coordinated care, from the point of admission throughout the lengthy process of recovery, often extending well after discharge.
Rehabilitation therapies of the severely burned patient are likely to include:
- Effective pain management
- Postural control to assist breathing, reduce the risk of pneumonia, reduce swelling, and maintain as much of the patient’s functional range of motion as possible
- Clinical treatment and counseling for helping manage the emotional impact of the trauma, as well as to alleviate or reduce common feelings of depression, hopelessness, loss of self-esteem, and anxiety over the disfigurement of contractures and scarring, disability and the loss of function, including possible loss of independence
- Anti-contracture positioning and splinting to facilitate tissue length and optimize range of motion
- Family support and counseling to enlighten family members regarding the benefits of therapy, what to expect regarding the patient’s prognosis, and how to best assist the patient once home
- Stretching and exercise to assist the patient with regaining optimal range of motion, flexibility, coordination, balance, respiratory and cardiovascular capacity, and daily functioning
- Massage and moistening to moisturize and stabilize scars and new skin while providing traumatized patients with the reassurance of compassionate touch
- Pressure therapy to reduce scarring
- Activities of daily living (ADL) to encourage patients to return to the routine of their daily activities as soon as possible and to resume their pre-injury role in society
- Social rehabilitation
Preventing Burn Injuries
Never smoke or use electronic devices while driving or near gasoline stations. Furthermore, stay away from the area near vehicle collisions or road accidents as much as possible.
If you are burnt and receive a scar as the result of a motor vehicle collision, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If the negligence of another has caused your burn, you are entitled to reimbursement for your injury. In addition, if your burn results in scarring, you are entitled to the cost of the revision surgery necessary to repair the appearance of the burn.
Common Burn Injury Complications
The devastating effects of thermal burns—caused by fire, steam, hot objects and hot liquids—are not just confined to the skin but compromise the entire being, damaging all organs and systems. Complications secondary to the burn wound itself frequently arise.
Organs most commonly affected by burns include the:
- Circulatory system
- Blood coagulation systems
There are many numerous factors influencing the body’s dysfunctional and systemic response to a burn injury, the most important being decreased blood flow and cardiac output and respiratory failure.
Some of the more common complications associated with burns are:
- Infection: Infection is the most common complication associated with burns. Serious thermal injuries ravage the immune system, increasing the patient’s vulnerability to infection. Early removal of dead skin can reduce the potential for massive infection or sepsis, a life-threatening inflammatory response affecting the whole body.
- Respiratory Failure: Respiratory failure, commonly seen with chemical burns and smoke inhalation injuries, can be caused by numerous factors, including injuries to the head, neck, and lungs; fluid overload of the system; inflammatory swelling of airways; and pneumonia. Burn patients showing signs of respiratory failure are provided with oxygen and fluid therapies and may be placed on a mechanical ventilator as a lifesaving measure.
- Pneumonia: Burn trauma not only affects the skin but also the lower airways, particularly in patients with inhalation injuries. Patients requiring mechanical ventilation are at an especially high risk of developing pneumonia. Pneumonia is treated in a manner consistent with standard protocol: antibiotics, postural therapy, and frequent turning of the body.
- Cardiac Stress and Heart Failure: Cardiac stress is one of the chief complications of burn injuries and results from increased cardiac output, poor circulation, rapid heart rate, blood loss, and poor delivery of oxygen to the heart. Studies have shown that the cardiac stress produced as a result of burn injuries persists for two years after the injury, increasing the patient’s risk of stroke.
- Renal Failure: Renal or kidney failure is a leading cause of serious complications and death in burn patients. The kidneys rely on adequate blow flow to flush the body of waste and to regulate the body’s critical balance of salt and water. Without adequate blood flow to the kidneys, toxic waste can build up in the kidneys, causing them to fail. Another factor leading to acute renal failure is dehydration. Healthy skin prevents the loss of bodily fluids. Damaged skin allows fluids to rapidly escape the body through evaporation, and the kidneys can shut down due to dehydration.
- Blood Clots and Aneurysms: Frequently, in cases where an electrical current has passed through the body or there are extensive burns, blood vessels may explode from the heat or die due to being irrevocably damaged. When this happens, blood clots can form and obstruct blood flow to vital organs, as well as to the arms and legs. In such cases, limbs can die quickly and require lifesaving amputation.
- Hemorrhage: Blood vessels that have been destroyed can also “bleed out,” causing profuse and uncontrolled internal bleeding.
- Hypermetabolism: Hypermetabolism in burn patients results from a combination of several factors, including raised body temperature, an increased heart rate as the heart attempts to compensate for the prolific and rapid loss of blood and bodily fluids, loss of body proteins as cell membranes break down, the risk of increased infections, and increased levels of stress hormones released in response to stimulating the fight-and-flight instinct. Recent studies have shown that increased levels of these hormones may result in a hypermetabolic state that persists for years, characterized by a fast heartrate and increased cardiac output, a higher basal metabolism, and poor immune function.
While complications caused by the injuries’ profound impact on the body’s major organs and systems should be anticipated, there are some foreseeable complications that can be prevented through the use of standard medical intervention as well as vigilant monitoring.
- Compartment syndromes
- Deep venous thrombosis
- Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia
- Stress ulcers
- Adrenal insufficiency
Scarring & Contractures
Even with the best care, scarring is an unavoidable consequence of most burn injuries. With the exception of superficial dermal burns, all deeper burn wounds heal through the natural process of scarring. The extent and magnitude of scarring corresponds directly to the severity of the burn.
Most people assume that the main impact of burn scars is confined to the psychological agony of the patient’s altered appearance, but this is inaccurate. Scars can become malignant and result in contractures and loss of physical function, cell break down resulting in skin ulceration, and can cause deep emotional trauma.
Scarring and its complications can be minimized through the use of various clinical strategies, including physical therapy techniques, such as:
- Splinting and positioning
- Pressure therapy, medications, and moisturizing to relieve itching and to make the scar more supple
- Surgical excision and dermabrasion
- Avoiding sunlight to prevent discoloration of the scar
- Use of silicone gel sheets
- Skin grafts
Despite advances in burn treatment and plastic surgery, many burn patients end up with scar contractures. Contractures represent a shortening of muscles/tendons and neurovascular (nerves/blood vessels) structures or an area of skin loss that can cause decreased range of motion, a loss of flexibility, and significant physical disability. Contractures can result from either the initial burn injury or from scarring and contracture of the skin over a period of years.
Physical therapy can help immensely in preventing contractures but, sometimes, surgery is necessary to release dislocated joints that have caused tightness and decreased mobility of joint capsules and ligaments. Physical therapy and surgical treatment of scars and contractures must be carefully evaluated in light of numerous medical considerations, including the imminent danger that the scar might pose to vital organs, the maturity and stability of the scar, the extent of neuromuscular and vascular involvement, the severity of the disability caused by contracture, and the need for follow-up skin grafts. Severe and incapacitating contractures may not respond to non-operative physical therapy measures.
Scars can have a profound and agonizing impact on a patient’s self-image and create a low quality of life due to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, a reluctance to re-integrate into society, feelings of hopelessness, shame, fear, and self-loathing. Group, individual and family counseling, provided by a skilled therapist experienced in dealing with trauma patients and their families, coupled with the use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, have been shown to have a positive effect on depression.
Other therapies—including cognitive-behavioral, social skills training and community interventions—can also help increase the patient’s sense of self-worth and acceptance. Nonetheless, the emotional and physical pain caused by scarring, disfigurement, disability, and deformity for the severely burned patient are ongoing, and the process of healing and true recovery never ending.
Severe Burn Injury Survival Rates
On average, almost half a million people in the U.S. seek professional medical care for burn injuries. For people under the age of 40, burns are the second-leading cause of trauma-related death following motor vehicular accidents and the third most common cause of death overall. Extensive burns are regarded as being among the most devastating type of injuries a person can sustain and still hope to survive. Recent medical advances in the field of trauma medicine in this country have increased the survival rate from burn injuries to 96%.
Yet, when talking about burn injuries, it is important to distinguish between “survival” and “recovery.” A person who survives extensive burns is apt to be left with scarring and disfigurement affecting his/her physical functions, as well as his/her cosmetic appearance. The ability to “recover” in the sense of being fully restored to pre-injury condition, capable of resuming an active life in society, may entail a long, costly, difficult, and painful healing process. In some cases, full recovery may not be possible or realistic based on burn severity and the lingering effects associated with the physical and emotional trauma.
There are relatively few statistics pinpointing the number of burn victims who are incapable of regaining their former quality of life, but what is known about prognosis for recovery points to the critical importance of not wasting time in seeking appropriate medical care. Namely, the sooner a burn victim receives best medical care, the greater chance he/she has of achieving optimal physical and psychological health outcomes, with fewer difficulties in the long-term.
The True Cost of a Burn Injury
The costs associated with sustaining a burn injury can be overwhelming in terms of the physical, emotional, and financial burden it places on the victim. If you have suffered a burn injury resulting from the actions or negligence of another, you are entitled to reimbursement for the harms and losses you and your loved ones have suffered.
If you or a loved one has suffered burn injuries due to the actions or negligence of another, it is important to consult with a burn injury attorney who has handled burn injuries in personal injury cases before settling your case. Many burn injury victims are not aware that they are entitled to reimbursement for all aspects of their injuries, not just the cost of treatment and rehabilitation. In addition, if you are forced to undergo a surgery as the result of an injury which is not your fault, scarring from incision wounds should also be reimbursed.