Burn injuries can lead to high medical bills, severe suffering, lasting scars and, for some burn victims, disfigurement. When someone else’s negligence causes your burn injuries, you may have the right to receive compensation for those losses.
The amount you might claim depends on numerous case-specific factors. Here’s an overview of the information an experienced burn injury lawyer might consider in determining how much your claim is worth.
Potential Categories of Compensation
The starting point for valuing a burn injury claim is to review the potential types of compensation you could claim.
Every burn injury case differs, but burn victims generally may hold at-fault parties and their liability insurers financially accountable for:
- The cost of burn injury medical and mental health care
- Other direct expenses related to living with a burn injury
- Lost earnings and job benefits from days missed at work
- Lost future income due to disabilities caused by a burn injury
- Physical pain of a burn or treatments for it
- Emotional distress and mental health challenges
- Scarring and disfigurement from a burn
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Harm to personal or intimate relationships
In some cases, lawyers for burn victims can also ask courts to award additional, exemplary damages, which serve to punish the party at fault for extreme misconduct. Burn injury attorneys work carefully to evaluate their client’s cases to identify the full value of each of the categories above, to maximize their client’s potential financial recovery.
What medical treatment did you need for your burns?
Medical care costs constitute a major component of most burn injury claims, since severe burns often require extensive treatment. Here are just some of the types of medical expenses that burn victims can commonly seek as damages.
Emergency Room Treatment
Severe burns often require immediate treatment in the emergency room. From scalding water burns to chemical burns, victims often need emergency medical care to decrease the risk of infection and scarring from their injuries. Many patients with severe burns have to go straight to the emergency room via ambulance, which can further add to the cost of treatment.
Hospitalization/Burn Unit Stay
Every day spent in a hospital adds dramatically to a burn victim’s medical costs. Patients with severe burns, in particular, frequently receive extremely expensive hospital care. Many of them spend considerable time in specialized hospital burn units—areas that get scrubbed and sterilized meticulously, operate sophisticated equipment, and have negative air pressure systems to reduce the risks of infections to burn patients.
Burn units cost hospitals extra to maintain, and those costs are reflected in the rates they charge. During their stays in burn units, patients also receive care from burn specialists whose services come at premium cost.
Many patients with severe burns undergo skin graft procedures, which add to costs and lengthen hospital stays. If a skin graft fails, which is known to happen, costs rise further.
Cosmetic or Reconstructive Surgery
Severe burns can cause substantial scarring and disfigurement. Cosmetic or reconstructive surgery can assist in alleviating some of the medical and psychological trauma. But those surgeries are expensive and health insurance plans may not cover them.
Caring for a severe burn commonly involves ongoing treatments such as physical therapy, wound cleaning and debridement, and taking medication. Those treatments can continue for some time even after a burn has scarred over, adding to the burn victim’s financial burden.
Did or will your burns prevent you from working?
Burns can take a significant toll on a victim’s ability to earn a living or pursue a career. Those lost earnings, past and future, often constitute another large component of the monetary damages a burn victim can claim.
Initial Healing Period
It takes time to heal from a burn. Burn victims frequently miss weeks of work at a minimum, which can cost them in missed paychecks, lost benefits, and used vacation or sick leave.
How long you might need to heal enough to return to work largely depends on your burn’s severity and what type of job you do. Your time away from work can stretch longer if your job responsibilities involve use or movement of the part of your body that suffered burns, or if you work in a job that could expose you to infection risks.
Temporary or Permanent Disability
Some burns can limit or eliminate your ability to work even after they have medically healed, adding to your financial losses. Extensive scarring from burns can, for example, limit your mobility in ways that prevent you from performing your normal job responsibilities.
You may suffer from chronic pain or discomfort that prevents you from doing most jobs because you cannot stand or sit for extended periods. Employers generally have obligations to accommodate their employees’ disabilities when it’s reasonably possible to do so, but that’s not always an option.
Future Earning Prospects
A severe burn might also limit someone’s future earning potential. For example, third degree burns to the face and hands may narrow the earning prospects of a medical student or a budding musician. These losses, if proven, can also form part of recoverable damages for a burn victim.
What non-financial impacts did a burn injury have on your life?
In addition to causing substantial physical suffering, burn injuries inflict considerable emotional anguish, social difficulty, and life disruption. These so-called non-economic damages can also be a significant contributor to the amount of a burn injury claim.
Loss of Independence
Depending on the severity of your burns, you may find that you need to rely heavily on friends and loved ones to help you with everyday tasks. Over the long term, you may also need assistance from hired caregivers. Many burn victims struggle with that sort of loss of independence and they deserve compensation for it.
Burn victims who carry significant scars frequently struggle emotionally as well as physically. A visible scar may lead to feelings of embarrassment or to social isolation. It’s not uncommon for burn victims to suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health challenges. These difficulties can severely impair the person’s quality of life.
Loss of Life Enjoyment
Following severe burn injuries, simply stepping outside can be painful. As damaged skin heals, burn victims may need to avoid exposure to heat, cold, or potential sources of infection. Burn scars may limit the activities they can participate in by restricting their mobility. As a result, burn victims often lose the ability to participate in everyday social interactions or favorite activities, which can have a profound impact on their quality of life.
Impact on Relationships
Burn injuries can also take a heavy toll on victims’ personal and familial relationships. Physical limitations and emotional trauma resulting from a burn disrupt the ability to socialize, care for children, and maintain an intimate connection with a spouse or partner. Some relationships change permanently or do not survive. For burn victims, these are some of the most devastating blows they suffer in the wake of their injuries.
How strong is your case?
The amount you can claim for your burn injury does not always make for a realistic estimate of how much you can expect to receive. That’s because the right to payment for your losses depends on being able to prove in court, if necessary, that someone has liability to you for the amount of damages you’ve claimed.
An experienced burn injury lawyer can handle the process of investigating the causes of your burn injury, gathering evidence to support a finding of liability and damages, and presenting your claim to an insurance company or court. The stronger the case the lawyer can build on your behalf, the better your chances of securing the maximum compensation available.
Numerous factors can affect the strength of the case a lawyer constructs:
- How quickly you hire a lawyer to begin collecting evidence and advocating on your behalf
- The availability of evidence (including documents and witness recollections) and amount of it a lawyer can obtain
- The degree of dispute liable parties or insurance companies might raise about the evidence of its meaning
- Your lawyer’s skill, experience, and reputation for getting results
Every burn injury case has its own strengths and weaknesses. But while there are no guarantees, promptly hiring an experienced burn injury attorney can go a long way toward protecting the value of your potential claim.
Who has liability for your burn injury and how much can they pay?
The value of your burn injury case may also depend on who has financial liability to you, and the financial resources they have available to pay your claim. In many burn injury cases, the at-fault party’s liability insurance pays some or all of the victim’s damages.
At-fault parties themselves may also have the financial ability to pay part (or in rare cases, all) of the claim out of their own pockets. In the event the combined insurance and assets of liable parties do not cover the full amount of your damages, however, the maximum they’re able to pay may act as a cap on your financial recovery.
For those reasons, experienced burn injury lawyers work hard to identify as many potentially liable parties as possible in their clients’ cases. Multiple individuals, businesses, or entities could share liability for your burn injury damages. And each of them could carry an insurance policy (or several policies) that covers some or all of your losses. The more of them a skilled lawyer can identify for you, the better your odds of the receiving the full amount to pay your expenses and meet your future needs.
How Can I Protect My Burn Injury Claim?
Hiring an experienced lawyer as soon as possible is the most reliable way to maximize the potential value of your burn injury claim. But until you have a lawyer fighting for you, following the tips below can also protect against mistakes that diminish the amount you might receive.
Follow Your Medical Treatment Plan
Try to do everything your doctors recommend to heal to the maximum extent possible. Go to your follow up appointments, do your physical therapy, take your medication, and care for yourself as instructed. Following your medical treatment plan promotes your health and wellbeing. It also ensures that no one can blame you for the outcome of your burn injury, and that your lawyer will have comprehensive medical records of your trauma and treatment to use as evidence supporting your damages claim.
Beware of Quick Settlement Offers
The party (or parties) liable for your burn injury face potentially large financial exposure for your losses. To avoid their responsibilities, they may try to offer you a quick settlement of your claim or potential claim. Be careful. Their offer may seem generous and well-intentioned, but chances are that they’ll offer you far less than you have the right to receive.
Accepting any settlement offer means giving up your rights to pursue additional compensation in the future. So it’s crucial to agree only to a settlement that pays you the maximum you can reasonably expect to receive. So don’t agree to or sign anything until you’ve had the opportunity to consult with an experienced lawyer who can, if necessary, negotiate with at-fault parties and insurance companies on your behalf to get you enough money to support you as you heal and rebuild.
Don’t Wait to Contact a Skilled Burn Injury Attorney
Your rights to compensation come with an expiration date known as a statute of limitations. You will most likely lose those rights if you do not take legal action before that date expires, and the safest way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to contact a skilled burn injury attorney immediately.
So don’t delay. If you or someone you love suffered burns due to another party’s negligence, contact a San Diego personal injury law firm’s qualified burn injury lawyer for a free consultation about your potential claim and rights to compensation.