Burns Are Significant Injuries and Can Lead to Some of the Highest Jury Verdicts
Olson Brooksby appreciates the potential high-exposure value of burn injury cases. Scott Brooksby has significant experience in serious, total body surface area (tbsa) burn injury and wrongful death cases. Our lawyers understand the delicate nature of large burn injury cases and work to minimize exposure to our clients.
Defendants potentially subject to burn injuries should employ best safety practices and make every attempt to avoid such injuries. Burns are one of the most serious injuries in personal injury cases. They may be the result of chemical fire or exposure, explosions, paints, solvents, or conventional fire. Sometimes burns are the result of contact with hot equipment or other product liability related events. The defense of serious burn injuries, including those related to aviation, product liability and heavy manufacturing is a large part of the defense practice of Olson Brooksby. A bad burn case in an aviation or heavy manufacturing accident, or as the result of a product liability defect can easily present high financial exposure to manufacturers and/or insurers. Settlement exposure can climb into the millions or tens of millions, with verdicts at least as high.
Even when there appears to be a strong defense, defendants should not underestimate the overwhelming sympathy a jury will feel when it sees a burn victim, particularly with serious facial burns or burns to the extremities. A good plaintiff’s lawyer will ask the jury to consider things like the profoundly disfiguring effects of a bad facial burn and the pain that everyday exposure to sunshine will cause its victim for life, or the lifelong gawking stares it will draw.
Similarly tragic are severe burns to the hands, which cannot be restored to even near full function or pre-burn aesthetics and result in pain every time the victim is touched. When liability is clear, burn cases should be settled because, unlike other personal injury cases, deformities caused by burns can incense juries to the point where they cannot put their emotions aside. The result can be verdicts in the millions or tens of millions, including punitive damages (particularly if children are involved or there is perceived recklessness). Although the amount of burn verdicts used to depend on the region of the country where the case originated, such verdicts are now generally high in every jurisdiction.
If the burn injury case must be tried, it must be done with great sympathy for the victim and careful attention to the medical aspects of the case, including future treatment, which may last decades and cost into the six or seven figures.
When trying a burn injury case, it is important to know where the injury occurred. If a plaintiff has to be air lifted to a burn center, that can radically change the extent of the injury. Similarly, it is important to know the details of the burn center where the plaintiff was treated because that can also change the extent of the injury and thus affect the jury verdict amount.
The Location of the Accident Can Change the Extent of the Injury and the Jury Verdict
In those industries where serious conventional burns are common, such as aviation disasters or steel or metal manufacturing, “serious” can arbitrarily be defined as full-thickness burns over 20% or more of the tbsa. The location of a burn center and the length of time to transport the victim to the burn center can be outcome-determinative. This is also particularly true where babies and children or those over sixty-five are the victims, or where there are serious burns to the face, head, extremities, or internal organs.
Manufacturers and insurers obviously do not choose where burn centers are located. After an accident, first responders will obviously make needed decisions about transport. Most heavy manufacturing, including that of aviation hot section components, is done near large metropolitan areas that typically have at least one burn center. Perhaps some of the greatest danger lies in cases in remote areas where individuals are subject to burns from allegedly defective products. For example, a person camping in a remote area of the Western United States who is badly burned by kerosene at a remote campsite may not be able to reach a burn center for hours. There may be no cellular phone service and a helicopter ambulance may have to be dispatched from hundreds of miles away.
Depending on the severity and tbsa burned, the size and related capabilities of the burn center will have a direct impact on the plaintiff’s recovery, and consequently, the ultimate exposure to the manufacturer and/or insurer in any settlement or verdict.
All Burn Centers are Not the Same–They May Have Varying Treatment Philosophies, Training and Capabilities
The size of the burn center can also be outcome-determinative because smaller centers, such as the Oregon Burn Center at Emanuel Hospital, are generally not large enough to perform a full excision and grafting in high tbsa burn cases. A full excision and grafting is where they do all of the procedures at once instead of one at a time. Some burn physicians believe that, depending on the case, better outcomes are achieved through full excision and grafting in high tbsa burn cases.
There are approximately 45 regional burn centers in the United States. Verification of burn centers is a joint program administered in the form of a rigorous review of the applicant centers by the American Burn Association (ABA) and the American College of Surgeons (ACS). Many states do not have a regional burn center and most states have only one or two. California has the most, with seven. Most burn centers are run by a single group or an extremely limited number of groups of burn surgeons who practice at the facility.
Unlike hospitals, burn centers do not typically extend general privileges to physicians. Most burn surgeons have been trained as general surgeons, and then have gone on to receive additional specialized training in burns. Along the population corridor running down I-5 between Seattle and Davis, California there are three verified regional burn centers, one each in Seattle (Harborview), Portland (The Oregon Burn Center at Emanuel Hospital), and The UC Davis Regional Burn Center.
Training and available resources vary from center to center. Burn centers also tend to have more pronounced treatment philosophies and cultures because they are staffed by relatively few surgeons who generally practice in the same group or just a few groups. However, although burn center practice varies, it is imperative that those who are seriously burned reach a regional burn center as soon as possible because specialized treatment is inarguably outcome-determinative
The mechanics of injury, lots of fire, accelerant, and contact with temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees are factors that are considered when determining whether burns are graftable from point of admission. In any serious burn case, most intermediate facilities such as a conventional hospitals will seek to transfer a seriously burned patient, almost always by air, to a regional burn center as soon as stabilization occurs.