Passen & Powell recently secured a substantial multi-million dollar jury verdict against a chemical company for severe burn injuries sustained by a man in a household explosion. Severe burn injuries also often arise in the workplace.
Burns can result from injuries sustained in various differing occupations in which an individual is exposed to an environment in which there are volatile or flammable chemicals in use such as in a factory. Electrical burns may occur in areas of “live” electrical wires such as construction sites where currents are improperly protected or marked.
Research shows certain occupations are particularly at risk of sustaining burn injuries; these include construction workers, welders, roofers, road pavers, factory workers and restaurant employees.
Burns are classified categorically as thermal meaning from heat, chemical or electrical. Medically, they are classified as first, second, third degree burns and fourth-degree burns. We do not commonly hear of a fourth degree, and they are not universally recognized, most would agree, they are typically fatal or require amputation if restricted to one limb.
Thermal burns, as the name implies, result from a heat source which may be due to a fire, an industrial accident, grease or other hot liquid that damages the skin. The skin is the largest organ of the body, and damage to it can be severely disabling. In any thermal burn an individual is at risk of inhalation injury as well from smoke and damage to the upper airway and lungs or carbon monoxide poisoning with encephalopathy or neurologic damage if there was a fire in an enclosed space. First responders and emergency physicians should evaluate for respiratory compromise in all fire victims at once, and follow the proper airway management if appropriate. Also, if the individual is presenting with neurologic signs that are not readily attributable to trauma, consider carbon monoxide poisoning or “burn encephalopathy”.
Chemical burns cause damage via a caustic reaction with skin, eyes or lung tissue. If an individual work with chemical agents in the workplace there must be specific standards in place to keep your area well ventilated and in line with proper guidelines for proper workplace safety. Some chemicals such as alkaline agents used in household cleaners are corrosive to the tissues and will cause significant burns upon contact.
Electrical burns are burns that occur from contact with an electrical current or “live” wire, as they are colloquially termed. When an individual comes into contact with electricity the most immediate and grave danger is a disturbance to the electrical conduction system of the heart, triggering an arrhythmia, heart attack, and death. If the individual has survived without lethal cardiac arrest sustaining only burns to the skin, the burns would be classified and treated as thermal burns. Any cardiac event would be treated with supportive care with hopes that a significant amount of the heart muscle was not damaged to cause congestive heart failure.
Classification of Burns and Burn Management
First degree burns are minor and involve only the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, these will usually resolve without scarring.
Second-degree burns are classified importantly into partial and full thickness, depending on the depth of involvement of the dermal layer. Partial thickness second-degree burns involve the epidermis and outer papillary dermal layer which may result in blistering. These burns usually will resolve with medical care, however, depend on the location, such as overlying a joint or covering a significant body surface area can render them quite significant.
Third-degree (full thickness) burns are the most severe burns that one typically survives and these wounds can be quite catastrophic. In third degree burn, all of the skin is destroyed and the damage extends to the subcutaneous tissues. They appear as black or white and maybe “leathery” in appearance. There is nerve damage as well.
Fourth-degree burns extend to the muscle and down to the bone and are almost always fatal. An individual sustaining a full thickness second-degree burn or a third-degree burn will require the expertise of a burn unit. These wounds will require surgical removal of all dead tissue and extensive skin grafting, vigilant infection control measures and wound care protocols and physical therapy to prevent disabling contractures as well as emotional support from mental health professionals. The expertise of specialized Burn Centers is imperative as these individuals are at very high risk of catastrophic outcomes. Burn teams have specialized surgeons, wound care nurses, physical and occupational therapists as well as psychologists to assist individuals in the extensive recovery process.
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to the negligence of others, or the disregard of safety standards that has resulted in a significant burn injury, call the attorneys at Passen & Powell with expertise on these injuries at 312-527-4500 for a free consultation.