Table of Contents
If you have suffered a serious burn injury, you may be in for a rough ride. Burn injury scars and disfigurements are typically permanent. In addition to the physical disfigurement, you might suffer lasting psychological distress. For all of these reasons, you are likely to be entitled to a large amount of compensation–assuming that you know how much your claim is worth and how to successfully demand its true value.
Degrees of Burn Injuries
Doctors classify burns according to four distinct degrees of injury:
- First degree burns: Mild damage to the surface of the skin. A full recovery is typical.
- Second degree burns: Deeper damage, typically causing blistering. A full recovery is probable, but you might suffer scarring.
- Third degree burns: Deep tissue damage that can char the skin. Permanent disfigurement is the rule.
- Fourth degree burns: Damage to all layers of skin plus ligaments, tendons, and bone. Permanent disfigurement and even death are common.
In the most serious burn injuries, the nerves themselves have been burned off, making it impossible to feel pain in those areas.
Most Common Causes of Burn Injuries
Human skin is fragile, and burn injuries can be caused by many different conditions, including:
- A defective consumer product (flammable clothing, for example);
- An industrial explosion;
- Hot liquid burns;
- A motor vehicle fire;
- A building or household fire;
- A tanning bed; or
- Surgical burns.
A comprehensive list of causes of burn injuries would be too long to reprint here.
Treatment and Complications
A burn injury can require skin grafts, painful scrubbing of wounded skin, plastic surgery, and other treatments. You will also be highly susceptible to infections, which could be more dangerous than burns. You can expect your recovery to last weeks, months, or even years, and you may never fully recover.
The Structure of a Personal Injury Claim
To demand compensation for a burn injury, you will need to break your claim down into at least three elements.
- The defendant was culpable in some way (negligence, gross negligence or intentional misconduct), through either action or failure to act;
- The defendant’s culpable conduct caused the accident; and
- You suffered harm because of the accident (the burns themselves, lost income, pain, psychological distress, etc.).
These elements are different if you claim liability against the manufacturer of a defective product.
Calculating the Settlement Value of a Burn Injury
Most burn injury claims never make it to court, even if the victim files a lawsuit. Instead, the defendant settles out of court. A disfigured burn victim is particularly likely to win the sympathy of a court. Settlements account for the vast majority of burn injury case resolutions.
Even if your burn injury claim never goes to court, the amount that a court is likely to award you will loom over your settlement negotiations like an invisible guest. Ultimately, the defendant (or, more likely, the insurance company) will negotiate based on what they believe you would be awarded if the case went to trial.
There is one exception to this general rule, however. If the defendant believes that you are underestimating the value of your own claim, they will negotiate based on what they believe you think your claim is worth. The way to avoid this is to select a lawyer with a good record of winning substantial burn claims at trial, and have your lawyer do the negotiating for you.
Your Likely Long-Term Damages
The more serious your conduction, the greater the amount of compensatory damages you can receive. There are two kinds of compensatory damages–economic damages and non-economic damages: Economic damages include:
- Past, present and future medical bills. Burn injuries are likely to continue generating medical expenses for years.;
- Lost earnings.
- Out -of-pocket expenses related to your burn injury, such as child care expenses.
Non-economic damages are typically greater than economic damages, especially when a lifelong burn injury occurs. Types of non-economic damages include:.
- Physical pain and suffering. Burn injuries are among the most painful kinds of injuries.
- Mental anguish, especially anguish caused by changes in your appearance.
- The permanent scarring or disfigurement that always accompanies a serious burn injury.
- Embarrassment and shame.
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Your spouse or children might be able to file their own claim for “loss of consortium”–loss of your ability to provide love and emotional support.
The Strength of Your Evidence
How strong is your claim? A lot depends on how much evidence you were able to gather. If the defendant is an electrician and the police arrested them for criminal negligence in miswiring your home, evidence of the arrest could be very persuasive.
On the other hand, suppose that your claim is based on a scientifically complex and controversial argument that the manufacturer of a defective product designed it in a manner that enhanced the likelihood of a fire that might have occurred anyway. In this case, your claim might be relatively weak.
The strength of your claim is related to the likelihood of you winning at trial. Your likelihood of winning at trial, in turn, is related to how much the defendant is likely to be willing to pay to avoid the risk of going to trial in the first place.
The Defendant’s Degree of Culpability (Punitive Damages)
Most burn injury victims base their claim on ordinary negligence. If you win such a claim, a court will award you compensatory damages. If you can prove “gross negligence” (extreme negligence) or intentional misconduct, however, a court might award you punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages A court might find gross negligence, for example, if an extremely inebriated defendant dropped hot liquid on you while on duty.
Ohio limits punitive damages to the smaller of (i) 200 percent of compensatory damages or (ii) 10 percent of the defendant’s net worth. The ultimate limit on punitive damages is $350,000. Although most courts are reluctant to award punitive damages, defendants will often pay a lot to avoid a credible possibility of such an award.
The defendant is likely to claim that the accident was partly your fault, or that you failed to scrupulously follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations. If they can make this accusation stick, they can relieve themselves of some or all of their liability.
If you were more than 50 percent at fault, you will receive zero damages. If you were 50 percent or less at fault, a court will reduce your damages proportionately. It will take away 25 percent of your damages, for example, if it rules you 25 percent at fault.
Your Lawyer’s Negotiating Skills
Your lawyer’s negotiating skills are the wildcard in the deck of settlement negotiations, for better or worse. Choose your lawyer carefully.
The Limits of the Financial Resources Available to Pay Your Claim
It doesn’t matter what you are entitled to if the defendant simply cannot pay it. Ultimate limitations include Insurance coverage limits and limits in the defendant’s ability to pay your claim out of their own pocket.
The availability of supplemental defendants, however, could add to the value of a claim that might otherwise be functionally worthless. Supplemental defendants might include:
- An alcohol vendor who served the defendant while they were already intoxicated;
- The defendant’s employer, if the defendant was on-duty at the time of the accident;
- The manufacturer of a defective product, if the defect contributed to the accident; and
- Other possible supplemental defendants.
A good Ohio burn injury lawyer will start looking for supplemental defendants soon after taking your case. They will also begin gathering evidence and seeking settlement as soon as they gain a full understanding of your claim.
If you’ve been injured and need help, contact us today to set up a free consultation. You won’t pay a dime unless we win your case.