Car Accident Injuries: Burn Injuries

An Auto Accident Attorney Helping Burn Injury Victims Obtain Compensation

Watching movies or television shows might give you the impression that vehicles are bursting into flames willy-nilly, particularly after crashes. The truth is, vehicle fires, particularly those resulting from traffic accidents, are not anywhere near as common as they used to be. Advancing car construction and design technologies have cut the risk of vehicle fires dramatically. For instance, nationwide, fire departments responded to about 287,000 vehicle fires each year from 2003 through 2007. Those fires resulted in 480 deaths and 1,525 injuries, in addition to $1.3 billion in property damage each year.

In contrast, from 2007 through 2011, fire departments in the U.S. responded to an average of about 229,000 per year, resulting in 328 deaths, 1,426 injuries and $1.4 billion in property damage each year. Fires, deaths, and injuries declined. Only property damage increased, and that reflects the rising cost of vehicles. And for 2015, about 174,000 vehicle fires, with 445 deaths, 1,550 injuries and $1.2 billion in property damage took place. While deaths and injuries were up over previous recent time periods, the number of vehicle fires was down sharply.

Nonetheless, vehicle fires happen, many of them the result of traffic accidents. From 2003 through 2007, Americans drove nearly three-billion miles each year. About 90 vehicle fires and .15 deaths were attributed to vehicle fires per billion miles driven. The numbers, while small, are not inconsequential, given the consequences of injuries from burns suffered in traffic accidents.

Fires in Traffic Accidents are Not Common

Injuries from fires in automobile accidents comprise less than one-half of 1 percent of all injuries arising from car accidents. Several decades ago, car fires, including those following traffic accidents, were far more common. In 1980, about 456,000 vehicle fires took place, including cars catching fire after traffic accidents. In the late 1970s, Ford Pintos proved vulnerable to exploding into flames if they were involved in rear-end accidents. Improved design and construction techniques reduced these problems significantly. Now, cars catching fire following a traffic accident are relatively rare.

How rare? The National Fire Protection Association reports that in 2015, out of 174,000 vehicle fires:

  • 49 percent were caused by mechanical failure
  • 11 percent ] arose from fuel line leaks or breaks
  • Another 23 percent were caused by electrical failures
  • 5 percent were the result of a vehicle being exposed to an external fire, such as a garage catching fire with the vehicle inside, and
  • 3 percent were due to a car crash or rollover

Only 3 percent of vehicle fires in 2015—or slightly more than 5,000 vehicle fires—were caused by car crashes. With more than 5.5 million traffic accidents reported each year—and up to 10 million more that are not reported—less than 1 percent of all automobile accidents result in a car catching fire.

That doesn’t mean that car fires after accidents are not a problem. NFPA statistics show that from 2003 through 2007, each year about 480 people died in car fires. While only 3 percent of car fires were caused by collisions, those accidents resulted in 283 fatalities, accounting for about 58 percent of all deaths from car fires.

No Matter How Uncommon, the Consequences of Fires in Traffic Accidents Are Severe

Automobile crashes involving fire are actually fairly rare, but fire is a grave concern when people are trapped in a vehicle or have suffered other injuries that prevent them from escaping a vehicle under their own power. Such circumstances can turn injuries into deaths.

Injuries from burns can be among the most painful and expensive injuries possible. While burn injuries result in only about 1 percent of all hospitalizations nationwide each year, those injuries cost more than $10.4 billion annually. Treatment for relatively low-intensity burns can top $200,000, while severe burns can result in treatment costs, even without complications, of about $1.6 million. Throw in complications, which in severe burn cases are quite common, and treatment costs can top $10 million. Given the pain and disfigurement that can accompany burn injuries, that “relatively few” car accident victims suffer such injuries diminishes in importance.

What Kinds of Burn Injuries Are Possible?

There are two ways to classify burn injuries—by source and by severity. Both factors have an impact on treatment methods and cost. Sources of burns include:

  • Thermal burns, caused by fire, explosions, steam, hot objects, hot liquids, and the like. Burning gas or other flammable liquids, and the high heat they can produce, also are thermal burns. These are the kinds of burns most often experienced in a traffic accident.
  • Chemical burns are somewhat self-explanatory and involve contact with strong acids or alkaline materials.
  • Electrical burns are, obviously, caused by electricity. Chemical and electrical burns are fairly rare in traffic accidents.

The severity of burns is rated on a three-step scale based on how badly the burn damages skin and tissue:

  • First-degree burns are comparable to sunburn, perhaps even bad sunburn, and affect only the top layer of skin.
  • Second-degree burns can cause blistering and skin damage that goes deeper than the surface layer of skin and, if severe enough, can cause scarring.
  • Third-degree burns cause deep damage to the skin and underlying fat. Third-degree burns are the worst of burns and can be quite severe.

Particularly when it comes to severe third-degree burns, numerous complications can add to the physical and financial consequences of a burn injury. Burn injuries are painful, but that also can result in significant scarring and disfigurement. Other top complications that can arise from burn injuries can include permanent skin damage resulting in fragile skin or skin breakdown, which can increase susceptibility to skin injuries from relatively minor causes in the future, psychological complications, infections, pneumonia, organ failure, chronic pain, and skin graft failures. These complications can add tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional treatment costs.

Such costs can far exceed the liability limits of most insurance policies. To ensure that you explore all possible avenues of compensation, you should see an attorney to help determine whether another party to your accident bears liability for your injuries.

Injured in a Car Accident? Call The Abelson Law Firm if You Were Injured in an Accident

Attorney Michael A. Abelson at The Abelson Law Firm has helped many people through their car accident cases. Reach him at (202) 331-0600 or through our online contact form.


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If you find that you are in need of a personal injury lawyer, I HIGHLY recommend Attorney Michael Abelson. I suffered a permanent disabling injury in a car accident. Mr. Abelson worked hard on my case and prepared carefully for trial. He guided me every step along the way. His diligent preparation led to a settlement agreement that greatly exceeded my expectation. Date published: 09/07/2018
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