Fire/Burn Injury

About 1.4 million persons in the United States suffer burns each year. Burn injuries are very complex and can affect all the major organ systems. A well-known cause of burns is accidental fires. Other sources of burns include scalding liquids or steam, contact with something hot, contact with chemicals, electrocution, and radiation.

There are two types of burns from fires:  flash burns and burns from flames. Those who suffer burns from flames or electrical burns often need hospitalization, whereas a flash burn victim usually can be treated as an outpatient.

The victim’s own response or the response of bystanders to a burn based on fire can significantly affect the extent of the burn. The first thing that should be done when somebody comes into contact with a fire is to stop his or her contact with the flames, hot liquid, or whatever else could cause burns. The person should stop, drop, and roll to put out any flames and take off any clothes that are smoldering or burned. If accelerants are present in the flames, however, the burning process may continue even after the victim rolls on the ground, and it would be better to smother the flames or take off any clothes that are aflame. Constrictive clothes must also be removed in case the burns swell. There are three degrees of severity when dealing with burns:  first, second, and third degree.

First-degree burns affect only the top layer of skin. They should be submerged in cool water or covered with cool compresses—not water that is too hot or too cold—until the pain stops, and then they should be protected with a sterile nonstick bandage. Second-degree burns affect the top layer of skin and the layer beneath it. As with first-degree burns, the affected area should be submerged in cool water or covered in cool compresses. The area should be loosely covered with a sterile bandage. The injured person should lie flat, with his or her feet elevated about a foot above heart level when possible, and a doctor should be seen to assess the severity of the burns and prescribe pain medications, antibiotics, or a tetanus shot.

Third-degree burns are very serious, and emergency help should be called. While waiting, the affected area of skin should be loosely covered with a sterile bandage or a clean sheet. The burn should not be soaked in water, and the main goal is to stop the injury victim from going into shock. Shock can be avoided by lying the injury victim flat, covering him or her with a blanket, and elevating the feet about a foot above heart level when it is possible. It is possible for second- and third-degree burns to leave very serious scars or even disfigurement.

Liability for Burns

Burn injuries happen most commonly to people between the ages of 15 and 29. In many cases, the burns are from an increased use of gasoline during certain seasons, either for bonfires, boating, or yard work. However, it is common for alcohol consumption to contribute to flame burn injuries as well.

When someone is severely injured because of an accidental fire, liability for the injuries may rest with the person who started the fire or caused it to go out of control. Responsible parties may include a corporation if the fire happens in an unsafe workplace, a product manufacturer if the fire started because of a defective product, such as a space heater or grill, a property owner or landlord if it failed to keep up with current fire codes or maintain an accessible fire escape, or ordinary individuals who act negligently.