What causes Indiana car fires and burn injuries?

Brave man with fire extinguisher going to a car incident on the road with smoke on the engineWhile the most common car crash injuries are whiplash and mild concussions, those involved in high-speed or multi-car collisions can suffer much worse injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, a broken pelvis, and severe burns. Car crashes are not a leading cause of burn injury, but when occupants are trapped in a burning car following a crash, they can suffer third-degree burns and lung damage from smoke inhalation. In this article, our Indianapolis car accident lawyer explains the risks of fire in a car accident.

Burn Injury Statistics

According to the American Burn Association, nearly half a million Americans receive emergency treatment for burn injuries each year and over 3,000 people die from fire or smoke inhalation. In 2016, 310 people died in vehicle crash fires, accounting for about 10 percent of all deaths by fire. The large majority of people—73 percent—were injured or killed in house fires in 2016, and only 5 percent were injured or killed in vehicle fires. However, understanding how these fires happen could save your life.

Types of Burn Injuries

There are several types of burn injuries and doctors categorize the severity in degrees. Treatment plans will depend on the type of burn and how deep the burn goes. People can be burned by a variety of sources which result in the following types of burns:

  • Thermal burns. These burns are caused by a heat source such as fire, steam, hot objects, or hot liquids. In car crashes, thermal burns are usually caused by fire, but motorcycle riders can get a thermal burn by touching a hot exhaust pipe or other components.
  • Electrical burns. If a car accident victim comes in contact with electrical sources, he or she might suffer an electrical burn.
  • Chemical burns. It is possible that a car crash could result in a chemical leak or spill of some kind, especially if a chemical tanker is involved in the crash. These burns are caused by contact with household or industrial chemicals in a liquid, solid, or gas form.
  • Friction burns. These burns are caused by contact with any hard surface such as roads and are often referred to as “road rash.” They are usually both an abrasion and a heat burn. Motorcycle riders who have road accidents while not wearing protective clothing and occupants of cars who are thrown from the vehicle in a crash may suffer friction burns.

No matter how the burn is caused, it will be categorized for its severity, as follows:

  • First-degree burns. This is a minor burn affecting only the outer layer of the skin. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and pain. It usually heals with first-aid measures within several days to a week.
  • Second-degree burns. This type of burn affects both the first and the second layers of the skin. Blisters may develop and pain can be severe. Deep second-degree burns can cause scarring.
  • Third-degree burns. The most serious burn, this burn reaches into the fat layer beneath the skin. Burned areas may be charred black or white. Third-degree burns can destroy nerves, causing numbness.

Treatment options include burn creams and ointments, bandaging, and antibiotics for minor burns and skin grafts, plastic surgery, and intubation for severe burns.

Causes of Car Fires

Cars are at risk of catching on fire because they carry dangerous flammable fuel. Fuel tanks are designed to contain the fuel and keep it away from anything that could spark and set it alight. However, in a crash, the fuel tank can rupture and leak. If a heat source is added to the leaked fuel, a fire can erupt. In a violent crash, a fuel tank can even explode, spreading the fire and sending shrapnel flying. Newer electric vehicles are equipped with batteries that can also catch fire when punctured in a collision. There is a risk of a fire in any car crash, so you should always get out of the vehicle and get as far away as possible if you are able to.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller