Burn Injury Accidents, Treatment, and Lawsuits

Nearly 2.5 million people in the United States will sustain a burn injury this year, with victims of the most serious injuries facing a lifetime of new challenges.

Fortunately, state-of-the-art burn centers continue to pioneer innovative therapies and surgery options for burn victims. One of the most critical steps a victim and their family can take after the accident is to immediately connect with communities, professional and personal, that are dedicated to the physical and psychological aftercare of burn victims.

The following document was researched, written, and distributed by one of the most successful personal injury law firms in our nation. It is a comprehensive look at the different degrees of burn injuries, burn injury symptoms, examples of causes, treatment options, names of top-rated U.S. burn units, as well as the case study of a former burn injury client who came to us for help after sustaining 3rd degree burns over 30% of her body.

If you're here because you're a victim, or a family member to someone who was burned, we hope this information begins to answer your questions and provides a great number of resources for you as you begin your journey to recovery.

No matter how minor or serious the burn, or how the accident happened, your burn will be classified into one of four categories. This section will discuss each burn type by giving an Overview, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.

In each section we'll use examples of each burn type that represent a "typical" scenario. There are always extreme cases, and any burn, especially those at the second-degree level and above can be life-threatening, depending on the area affected, the health and age of the victim, and secondary complications.

First-Degree Burns

What Is a First-Degree Burn?

Also known as "superficial," a first-degree burn only affects the top layer of your skin (epidermis).

What Will It Look Like?

The area will be visibly red and sensitive to touch, and if you were to apply light pressure to the burn with your fingers it would temporarily blanch or whiten.


The causes are many, but a mild sunburn is the primary culprit behind the majority of first-degree burns. (Many people may also sustain a first-degree burn from touching a hot cooking pan or warm stove top.)


The majority of these burns will not require any type of emergency medical treatment and will rarely cause permanent damage or scarring. However, there are rare instances when a first-degree burn may warrant the attention of a doctor, depending on the location and size of the area affected and/or the pain tolerance of the individual. Even in these instances, it's likely that you will make an excellent recovery with no significant after-effects.

  • Place a cool, wet compress on the burn until the pain subsides.
  • Place a sterile, non-stick bandage over the burn.
  • Don't make use of ointments or home remedies like butter--this could result in infection.
  • Use over-the-counter pain relievers for persistent pain and/or swelling.

Prevention Example

Prevention is always specific to the cause. In the instance of sunburns, the obvious protection against a first-degree burn would be an effective sunblock. You'll want to choose a sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and is labeled "broad spectrum," meaning you will be protected from UVA and UVB rays. (Sunblocks with higher SPFs will guarantee longer protection from the sun's rays that are often to blame for first-degree burns.)

Second-Degree Burns

What Is a Second-Degree Burn?

Also known as a "partial thickness burn," a second-degree burn often leaves the affected area of the skin wet or moist in appearance. This type of burn causes damage to the top layer of the skin (epidermis) as well as the second layer of skin (dermis), often affecting sweat glands and hair follicles.

What Will It Look Like?

And similar to a first-degree burn, second degree-burns will leave the skin appearing quite red, however, there is often blistering, pronounced swelling, and the pain is more severe. In some instances, a deep second-degree burn can cause scarring.


Second-degree burns can also be caused by any number of factors, but the majority of these burns are attributed to fire, scalding injuries, and chemical burns.

(Unknown to most, second-degree scalding injuries will often increase in their severity depending on the thickness of a liquid; the thicker the worse the burn.)


The majority of second-degree burns will not require any type of emergency medical treatment, however, because the pain and severity is much more pronounced than a first-degree burn, it's critical that you monitor the area for signs of possible infection or ongoing side-effects. It's likely that you will make an excellent to good recovery from a second-degree burn.

Prevention Example

Hot liquids are often the cause of second-degree burns, coffee being the one that comes to most people's minds. If you stop to think, you probably know someone who has spilled a hot beverage on them while trying to drive or multi-task. If possible, always use a lid or snap cover on the top of glasses and cups that contain hot liquids.

Third-Degree Burn

What Is a Third-Degree Burn?

Also known as a "full-thickness burn," a third-degree burn causes damage to the top layer of skin (epidermis), the second layer of skin (dermis), and the third layer of fatty tissue (subcutaneous tissue).

What Will It Look Like?

The appearance of the skin from this burn type will often leave a dry, leathery apeparance. Sometimes if the burn is severe enough it may char the skin, leaving it black, brown, or even a translucent white color.

There will be pronounced swelling in and around the affected area. Often times, the nerve endings in the skin will be destroyed leaving the person with a numb sensation in the area most affected, however, a person may complain of surrounding pain due to the presence of second-degree burns. Third-degree burns usually result in extensive scarring.


Any number of factors can cause third-degree burns, but the majority of our clients typically sustain these burns as the result of a traumatic accident, such as a fiery car crash or work-related injury.

This degree of burn, usually indicates a prolonged exposure to a flame, however there are heat and burn sources such as electricity and chemicals that can instantly cause third degree burns


As with any burn, the treatment will depend on several factors such as age and prior health, but once the severity of the burn is determined, there are several options that may be used in combination with one another to provide relief from pain as well as promote healing. (Doctors will determine burn severity by measuring the area of the body surface that is affected.)

  • Debriding is often performed to remove areas of dead skin and underlying tissue from the burned area.
  • IV's can be administered to promote hydration and inject electrolytes
  • Antibiotics/Tetanus shots to ward off infection
  • Various medications, oral and intravenous, for pain
  • Special diets
  • Skin grafting
  • Plastic surgery to repair the physical damage

Prevention Example

As mentioned above, many of our clients with third-degree burns were involved in a motor vehicle accident or work-related incident.

With regard to a car crash, it's probably a safe bet to assume you don't currently carry a fire extinguisher in your vehicle. Everyone should! There are extinguishers made specifically for cars and trucks that serve as an excellent preventive measure.

Burn Unit Referral Criteria

The majority of burn victims involved in severe accidents will be sent to a professional burn unit for specialized care. These units are staffed by experts in burn treatment and recovery, as well as access to the latest in burn injury technology. However, it's important to note that not everyone will be treated at a burn unit for their injuries. In fact, due to the limited number of these facilities, there are very specific criteria for admittance.

A Congressional report dated January 24, 2007 found that there are only 128 burn centers in the United States. "The total burn-bed capacity at all burn centers in the United States is 1,835 beds. Burn centers in four States have closed..." Despite this, the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists burns as the sixth leading cause of unintentional accidental deaths.

According to the American Burn Association, the average size of a burn injury admitted to a burn center is about 14% of total body surface area. Burns of 10% TBSA or less account for 54% of burn center admissions, while burns of 60% TBSA or more account for 4% of admissions. About 6% of burn center admissions do not survive, most of whom have suffered severe inhalation injuries in fires.

The American Burn Association's Criteria for Referral to a Burn Unit:

  1. Burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitalia, perineum, or major joints.
  2. Partial thickness burns greater than 10% total body surface area (TBSA).
  3. Third-degree burns in any age group.
  4. Electrical burns, including lightning injury.
  5. Chemical burns.
  6. Inhalation Injury.
  7. Burn injury in patients with preexisting medical disorders that could complicate management, prolong recovery, or affect mortality.
  8. Any patients with burns and concomitant trauma (such as fractures) in which the burn injury poses the greatest risk of morbidity or mortality. In such cases, if the trauma poses the greater immediate risk, the patient may be initially stabilized in a trauma center before being transferred to a burn unit. Physician judgment will be necessary in such situations and should be in concert with the regional medical control plan and triage protocols.
  9. Burned children in hospitals without qualified personnel or equipment for the care of children.
  10. Burn injury in patients who will require special social, emotional, or long-term rehabilitative intervention.

Burn Units In States Where Keller & Keller Can Help

Keller & Keller practices law in several states across the country, and below are a list of burn units in states where we help the majority of our clients:


  • Riley Children's Hospital -- Burn Unit
  • Indiana University Burn Center -- Wishard Memorial Hospital
  • St. Joseph's Medical Center -- Regional Burn Center


  • Children's Hospital of Michigan Burn Center
  • The Burn Center Detroit Receiving Hospital
  • University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center
  • Hurley Medical Center
  • Spectrum Health Regional Burn Center
  • St. Mary's Medical Center Burn Trauma ICU
  • Bronson Burn Center


  • Loyola University Health System Burn Center
  • University of Chicago Burn Center
  • Trinity Medical Center Regional Burn and Reconstructive Unity
  • Memorial Medical Center Regional Burn Center
  • OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center
  • Sumner L. Koch Burn Center

New Mexico

  • New Mexico Regional Burn Center


  • Kosair Children's Hospital Burn Unit
  • University of Kentucky Hospital
  • University of Louisville Hospital Burn Unit
  • Marion Wound and Burn Center


  • Orlando Regional Medical Center
  • Tampa Bay Regional Burn Center
  • Shands Burn Center
  • University of Miami -- Jackson Memorial Burn Center
  • Burn Centers of Florida, Inc.

The complete list of burn units in the United States is divided between "self-designated facilities" and centers designated by the American Burn Association. In 2012 the U.S. had 123 self-designated centers, and 54 of them were actually designated as burn centers by the American Burn Association.

No matter how the burn injury occurred, it's always suggested that a person contact a personal injury law firm that offers free consultations to the victim and their family. Burn injury cases will be complicated, and lengthy, and require a professional as well as personable approach. Our firm has a habit of winning the big cases, and staying ahead with our New Mexico traffic accident news page. If your burn injury has left you with permanent injuries, it's possible we can help, starting today.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller