These days fire is far less common in car crashes than it used to be – still, burn injuries in auto accidents are among the most dangerous and life-altering damages accident victims can face. It is often our job to help innocent victims overcome the life-altering consequences of accident related burns.
In this article we hope to help you learn what you need to know about accident related burns and how you can recover in court. We will discuss burns in general, how such burns can happen in an accident. We will touch on the medical treatments, and the ways in which the scarring and disfigurement of burns can change a life forever. We also hope to give you an idea about how something as obvious as a terrible, scarring burn can be distorted by the insurance company lawyers you might face in court. Shrinking your settlement is their job, after all. This is why finding the right advocate to represent you is so critically important.
Before the 1970s car-crash fires were far more common than they are today. It was then that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA) adopted new standards that served to limit the amount of allowable fuel spillage from vehicles after rear, side, or frontal impacts. These new standards helped to diminish the number of actual flames, but it’s important to remember that burns can happen when steam, hot fluids or chemicals are splashed onto victims in the crash. When they do, the resulting injuries can be catastrophic
Burns that happen in vehicular accidents can sometimes be minor. First-degree burns only involve the top layer of your skin. You may have experienced first-degree burns at a summer picnic in the form of sunburn. Even second-degree burns, though painful, will generally heal in time depending upon the area of the body involved. The kinds of burns that have the largest impact on the lives of the victims and their families are these:
Third-degree burns destroy both the outer layer of skin epidermis and the underlying dermis. Such burns can also cause harm to bones and deeper tissues, like muscles, and can cause new skin not go grow.
Fourth-degree burns – We hear less about fourth-degree burns. They extend beyond the skin and into the muscle and bone underneath, destroying tissue and nerves in their path. These burns are often fatal, and if the victim does survive the burns, multiple skin grafting surgeries are often necessary.
In addition to the severity and depth of the burn, the amount of body area encompassed by the burn may be the most important factor to consider. That burn on your finger you got from the hot oven rack is painful enough. Imagine how it would be if that same burn extended over an extensive part of your body.
Between1993 and 2001, National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) data demonstrated that each year an average of about 15,820 passenger vehicle occupants were burned in car and truck wrecks. Three-quarters of those with moderate and more severe burns had second – or third -degree burns over more than 90 percent of their bodies. In spite of the regulations in place, burn accidents are still entirely too common.
Your fourteen-year-old daughter and several other girls are car-pooling to cheerleader practice when a pickup truck ran a light and crashed into the van in which the girls were riding. The impact ruptures the pickup’s radiator spraying super-heated fluid through the broken windows of the van, covering your daughter’s head, face, neck, and exposed thighs with the hot sticky antifreeze-laden water, burning her severely.
Your daughter is rushed to a nearby hospital by ambulance and after initial evaluation in the emergency room she is transported to the Joseph M. Still burn Center located within the Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell. There, she is diagnosed with third-degree burns over the entire right side of her head, face, neck, and her thighs. She is suffering from shock.
Your daughter endures weeks of treatment for her burns including daily debridement – removal of dead tissue. Because of the severity of the burn, the treatments are not horribly painful. As is often the case with deep burns, nerve damage has shut down some of the pain signals in her affected areas. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of pain from the places where skin is harvested for the grafts.
Your beautiful, athletic daughter will spend at least a year undergoing multiple skin grafting surgeries. To make matters worse, her African-American genetics make her particularly prone to the creation of Keloid scarring which may require further cosmetic surgeries in the future. She will have permanent disfigurement and injury. Even if she is able to regain her full mobility in time, her cheerleading scholarship to Georgia State will probably not materialize. College may never happen for her.
Quite naturally, she is unable to imagine her life as a happy one in the wake of one accident caused by an inattentive driver.
You hire a personal injury lawyer in hopes of providing an alternative future for your daughter.
Your daughter’s injuries are horribly obvious. In spite of the several surgeries to graft skin from the back of her thighs to her face and scalp, she is hideously scarred. She must repeatedly watch the look of horror appear on the faces of strangers when she encounters them. She won’t go anywhere, and begs you to enroll her in online classes. She may or may never have her own hair growing on her burned head. There is no other word to describe her but disfigured.
It would seem easy to prove that your daughter is damaged. Nevertheless, in the world of personal injury law, this is no such thing as a slam-dunk case.
It is the job of insurance company attorneys to take every possible step to make the insurance company’s pay-out for the damage done by their insured as little as possible. In order to do this, these lawyers work every angle they can find to make your injuries appear over-blown and even imaginary.
If you think there was nothing worse than what your daughter has already endured, imagine her being accused of pretending to be embarrassed by her scars. Imagine her being browbeaten on the witness stand by a highly-paid insurance company legal team saying she was probably never going to get that Georgia State Cheerleading Scholarship, or that her grades were not good enough for college anyway.
Yes. It seems cruel. It will be. Unless, of course, your attorney can anticipate the arguments and the allegations and counter them before the matter comes to trial. It will be up to you to document everything.
Lawyers from the other side will claim that the treatments after the accident were not very painful, and so could not be worthy of compensation. They will insist that with the wigs available today, nobody will even know that your daughter has no hair on the right side of her head. They claim that just a little cosmetic surgery will erase all the damage.
Not only will you need to keep a journal of your daughter’s medical treatment and recovery, you will also have to pay special attention to her state-of-mind from day to day. Additionally, you will most likely need to produce witnesses who knew your daughter’s outgoing, positive attitude prior to the accident and can testify to the changes in her personality. School records and athletic awards will also be needed to support her claims for damages.
In this case expert witnesses from burn specialists to psychologists will be called in to paint a picture for the jury of the future this young lady faces in the wake of the accident. All of these things will help to establish the necessity of providing alternative means of funding her college education and her prospects for a ‘normal’ life.
There is absolutely no way to make this girl ‘whole’ again. She will always wear the evidence of the other driver’s negligence. Her planned, “normal” life has been ripped away from her. Now she will have to do the best she can with what she has left. What is that worth?
Of course the easy part is calculating the medical costs. You have the bills from the treatment she has already had. The doctors can give you an idea of what future treatments will be necessary and how much they will cost. The business of estimating what physical therapy and psychological costs and can be done without too much trouble.
The hard part is determining what her pain and suffering are worth.
The best way the lawyers and the court will have to determine the amount of damages to be awarded will be to look at other, similar cases and examine what other juries have concluded is fair compensation. A settlement agreement may be reached before the matter goes to trial and, if it is agreed upon by the Court, the case will end there. If no settlement can be reached, your daughter might have to appear in court and a jury will be asked to decide upon the matter. In any case, much will depend upon your careful documentation of the daily drama your daughter has endured and will continue to cope with for the rest of her life.
You have spent years planning for the future of your children. You have done everything in your power to prepare for any contingency – except this one. Now, because of the negligence of a total stranger, your daughter’s life is disintegrating around her. You haven’t the tools to fix this problem. You must depend upon the justice system to make what amends it can – for this you need a specialist.
Not all lawyers are experts in dealing with personal injury cases. Not every lawyer knows how to anticipate and counter the cruel and baseless allegations and suggestions the insurance company lawyers will drag out in order to diminish your daughter’s settlement. You must hire an advocate whose expertise is dealing with cases like this one. You need a gladiator who has the specific skills and experience to defend your little girl.
Your first step should be a thorough case evaluation done by a reputable personal injury firm. At The Millar Law Firm, we offer such evaluations free of charge. We’ll look at the facts of your case and determine how best to proceed. This review will give you the important basic information you’ll need to begin consideration of a civil case.
Even cases with powerful and irrefutable evidence can go wrong when they are left in the hands of someone who does not know how to do battle in the personal injury arena. Before you leave your loved one’s future to just any lawyer, call The Millar Law Firm first. You’ll be glad you did.