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Types of Burn Injuries

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Thermal, chemical, electrical and other burns are some of the most serious injuries a person can suffer. Depending on the type and severity of the burn injury, there can be mild to extensive skin damage, internal injuries, and complications such as shock, infection and cardiac arrest. In addition to emergency care, many patients need ongoing medical treatment, rehabilitation and counseling.

The financial repercussions of burn injuries can be devastating to burn victims and their families. A lawyer specializing in personal injury lawsuits and settlements can help you pursue compensation for out-of-pocket medical bills and expenses such as the cost of initial hospitalization, skin graft surgery, plastic surgery, rehabilitative treatment and lost wages. Additionally, you may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering as well as emotional distress. Burn injuries can be one of many wrongful death causes. Although no amount of money can replace a loved one, death claim legal help can ensure that your legal rights are protected.

Thermal Burn Injuries

Thermal burns — the most common type of burn injury — are the result of contact with heat sources such as fire, steam, hot liquids, hot metals and hot objects. Forty-three percent of burn center admissions are fire/flame related, 23 percent are related to scalding, and 8 percent are linked to contact with a hot object.

Fire/Flame Injury. One civilian fire injury occurs every 30 minutes. While a brief exposure (flash) tends to produce superficial or superficial partial thickness burns, prolonged exposure to flames can produce deep partial thickness to full thickness burns. Many patients burned in fires also suffer smoke inhalation injuries, which can be more serious than the burn itself.

Many recalls have been issued for defective consumer products that pose fire hazards (for example, certain brands of candles and fire extinguishers.) Other potential causes of burn injuries from fire include:

  • Car accidents
  • Industrial products
  • Defective machinery
  • Water heater fires
  • Explosions
  • Faulty electrical wiring
  • Home & other structural fires
  • Flammable clothing and liquids


Scalding Injury. Hot water, hot beverages, steam and hot food can all cause scalding. Wet heat travels through tissue faster than dry heat. Therefore, infants and elderly persons, who have thinner skin and a decreased ability to react, are particularly vulnerable to scalding injuries.

Inhalation Injuries

Victims of fire accidents often have smoke inhalation injuries alone or in addition to thermal burns. Smoke inhalation is extremely serious. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of fire-related fatalities are believed to be from smoke inhalation injuries.

Hot steam, hot smoke and certain chemicals found in the smoke can cause swelling and damage to the trachea and the lungs, sometimes obstructing the airway. In addition, certain chemicals may cause cyanide and/or carbon monoxide poisoning. Smoke inhalation injuries are not always immediately apparent, so patients must be monitored carefully.

Splashes and spills tend to produce partial thickness burns, whereas immersion in hot liquid and steam are likely to cause full thickness burns.

While the maximum safe bathing temperature is 100 degrees, property managers, landlords and homeowners too frequently set their water heaters between 140 and 160 degrees, and as a result many scald injuries happen in bathing areas. An injury in the workplace, such as steam burns from exposed pipes and grease burns in restaurant kitchens, are another common source of scald injuries.

Hot objects such as tea kettles, stoves and curling irons can also cause thermal burns.

Prevention of infection and mitigation of scarring are the primary concerns with thermal burns.

Chemical Burns

Chemical burns represent approximately 3 percent of all burn center admissions. Chemical burns occur when certain acids, alkaloids and other caustic chemicals come into contact with the skin.

Caustic chemicals are used in agriculture and construction, as well as in the medical and automotive industries. If you have suffered a chemical burn at the workplace, a personal injury lawyer can help you determine your likelihood of receiving compensation for your injuries.

Possible causes of chemical burns at home or in the workplace include:

  • Industrial products, tar, gasoline and wet pavement
  • Household cleaners that contain lye (paint cleaners), sulfuric acid (toilet bowl cleaners), phenol (deodorizers), or sodium hypochlorite (disinfectants and bleaches)
  • Cosmetic products such as nail polish remover and hair dye
  • Explosions and spills

Burn Injury Complications

The skin is a large and complex organ that provides protective barriers that are critical to survival. Aside from the physical damage inflicted to the tissue itself, burns compromise normal skin barrier function, causing complications common to most types of burn injuries such as heat loss (hypothermia), shock, dehydration, infection, and electrolyte imbalances.

When muscle tissue is destroyed, proteins are released into the blood that can cause kidney failure. Patients with deep burns may develop thick crusts on the surface of the skin called eschars, which can cut off blood supply to healthy tissue or affect the patient's ability to breathe.

Chemicals can cause severe burns and should be removed from the skin immediately to stop further damage from progressing. However, unlike thermal burns, chemical burns are not always immediately obvious, and systemic poisoning is a serious concern. The eyes are particularly susceptible to burn injury complications in chemical and radiation burns. If you suspect you have been exposed to a chemical agent, it is extremely important that you follow appropriate first aid instructions (can be found at, call poison control (1-800-222-1222) and seek medical attention immediately.

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns represent 4 percent of burn center admissions. Electrical burns occur when electric current passes through the body, causing both external and internal injuries. Most of the damage from electric current occurs beneath the surface of the skin. Factors affecting the extent of injury include the intensity and type of current, duration of exposure, the amount of moisture on the patient and the area of the body that the current passes through.

Low Voltage. When a low-voltage electric current (less than 500 volts) passes through the body, it generally does not cause severe burns. However, contact with low voltage can still have serious consequences:

  • Cardiac problems, including cardiac arrest, can occur if low-voltage electricity comes into contact with wet skin
  • Muscle spasms, which can prevent the patient from "letting go" or can suffocate the patient if the lungs spasm
  • Oral burns, which are typically seen in young children who suck or bite on electrical cords

High Voltage. High voltage burns occur when an electric current of more than 1000 volts passes through the body. Electrical burn complications can be very serious and may include:

  • Heart rhythm disturbances such as sudden cardiac arrest
  • Fractures and other blunt trauma either from the force of the jolt or from resulting falls (caused by the jolt and/or involuntary muscle contractures)
  • Severe skin burns from electrical arcs, flashes and clothes catching on fire.
  • Seizures/coma and permanent neurological deficits

Electrical burns can be caused by faulty electrical appliances or machinery, unintentional contact with batteries or household wiring, and by lightening. Power sources and power lines are often involved in high-voltage electrical burns.

Other Burn Injuries

Six percent of patients who are admitted to burn centers have other types of burn injuries. For example, cold, friction and radiation (such as ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds, x-rays or radiation therapy for cancer treatment) can all cause burn injuries.

Compensation for Burn Injuries

Burn injuries are often the result of the negligent or reckless conduct of another person such as a landlord, employer, or manufacturer. If you or a loved one has suffered a burn injury, contact a personal injury lawyer who can help you determine the likelihood of reaching a settlement with those responsible for your injuries.

Other Topics Covered on Your Legal Guide

In addition to burn injury information, Your Legal Guide provides information on a broad spectrum of topics related to the law. If you are interested in learning more about subjects such as divorce, employment law or DUI bail cost, visit our articles devoted to these topics.

*Sources: American Burn Association, National Fire Protection Agency