What Are the Different Types of Burn Injuries?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

types of burn injuries

Burn injuries are incredibly serious, often causing long-term — and sometimes life-changing — complications. They’re also surprisingly common and can happen in any accident, even without direct exposure to flames. This is because fire isn’t the only cause of burns.

Here, we look at the different types of burn injuries, including how they are classified, their common causes and complications, and what legal options you have if you suffer one.

Classification of Burn Injuries

There are several different types of burn injuries, and these can be differentiated by their cause — which we’ll look at in a moment — and their severity. Every burn is classified according to one of four categories, with each becoming progressively more severe and damaging. However, that isn’t to say the least detrimental types aren’t serious, as they can still cause significant pain and discomfort and impact your long-term health.

If you’ve suffered a burn injury in an accident that wasn’t your fault, you could be entitled to substantial compensation. Book a free case review with our Texas burn injury lawyer today to see if you have a claim.

First-Degree Burn Injuries

This type of burn injury affects the outermost layer of the skin. If you’ve ever caught your hand on an open flame or experienced sunburn after being in the sun for too long, you’ve technically sustained a first-degree burn. Symptoms common include red skin, swelling, and pain. While these burns often heal quickly — usually within a week — and don’t usually need medical treatment, they can lead to other, more serious conditions. As sunburn is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun, you’re more at risk of heatstroke or heat exhaustion, which can be life-threatening. First-degree burns caused by the sun also damage your skin, which can increase your risk of cancer.

Second-Degree Burn Injuries

Second-degree burns go one layer deeper, reaching the dermis (middle) layer of your skin. These can cause redness, soreness, swelling, and blisters. Victims with second-degree burns must keep their wounds clear, as the blisters can burst and become infected. While less severe second-degree burns heal fairly quickly — within a matter of weeks — they can cause a permanent change in pigment and may require skin grafting.

Third-Degree Burn Injuries

Third-degree burns are among the most severe types of burn injuries, as they penetrate all layers of the skin. While you may think these burns would be extremely painful, they may not cause any pain. This happens when the burn damages the nerve endings. Third-degree burns can also vary in appearance, from white or waxy to dark brown and from leathery to raised. These burns require surgery and often leave burn injury victims with scarring.

Fourth-Degree Burn Injuries

Fourth-degree burns are, thankfully, uncommon. This classification marks the highest level of burns and can be life-threatening. With this type of burn, the damage isn’t just to the layers of the skin but also the muscles, ligaments, and sometimes even the bones. These burns cause excruciating pain and can lead to amputation of the affected area and disfigurement. Immediate medical attention is vital, as victims can die from these burns.

Specific Burn Injuries and Their Causes

So now we know how burns are classified, but that’s not the only way to determine the different burn types. A burn can also fall into an additional category depending on its cause.

Thermal Burn Injuries

A thermal burn is the main type of burn injury we think of when we hear the word “burn”. Thermal burns happen when the skin is directly exposed to an open flame, but they can also be caused by scalding water, steam, or cooking grease. These are also called scald burns, which is a specific type of thermal burn.

Thermal burns can happen anywhere, at any time, from cooking at home or working at a restaurant to being in a car accident involving an explosion.

As a result, they’re the most common type of burn injuries — of all those admitted to a burn center, 86% have thermal burns.

If you suffer this type of burn injury due to someone else’s negligence — such as if you’re in a car or truck accident or you work in a flammable environment and aren’t provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) — you may be entitled to file a personal injury claim. Our personal injury lawyers in San Antonio and McAllen can help you determine how much compensation you could be entitled to.

Chemical Burn Injuries

As the name indicates, a chemical burn is caused by direct contact with chemicals, whether household cleaning supplies such as detergents and bleach or through a chemical explosion in the workplace.

Chemical burns can also happen in truck accidents when the truck is carrying hazardous materials, such as paints and solvents.

The damage a chemical burn can do varies on the area affected. Aside from physical burns and blisters on the skin, they can cause vision loss — if not permanent blindness — if the eyes are exposed. Inhalation can result in burns to the throat, mouth, and digestive tract, with symptoms including swelling, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

This type of burn is also known as a caustic burn, and it’s vital to seek emergency treatment if you’re injured. Your first instinct to treat a chemical burn might be to apply cold water, but some chemicals react negatively with water. For example, applying water to a sulfuric burn injury can worsen your injury, as water causes the skin to get hotter.

Medical professionals know how to treat chemical burns to prevent the chemicals from traveling deeper into the skin and causing internal damage.

Electrical Burn Injuries

Electrical burns are a type of burn injury caused by an electrical current traveling through the body. We all know the dangers of electricity — when a current passes through the body, it can damage the internal organs, muscles, bones, and nervous system. The latter can cause muscle weakness and fainting and impair sight and hearing. It can also lead to an irregular heartbeat and increase the risk of cardiac arrest.

Electrical burns can also affect the outer layers of the skin. There are three different types of electrical skin burns, indicated by how many layers of skin the burn penetrates.

These are:

Superficial burns: Superficial burns affect the top layer of the skin. These burns look red and dry and are painful. When pressure is applied, the burn turns white.

Partial-thickness burns: These are second-degree burns, as they affect the top two layers of the skin. Like other second-degree burns, they cause redness and blisters and may leak fluid.

Full-thickness burns: This third-degree electrical burn penetrates all layers of the skin and can vary in color from white or gray to black. These often damage the nerves in the skin, so victims usually don’t feel pain.

Electrical burns are one of the most common burn injuries sustained in workplace accidents. As such, you may be able to file a work injury claim for this injury.

Radiation Burn Injuries

Radiation burns are more common in the workplaces, such as in factories or plants where there is a risk of exposure. They can also result from sunburn or radiation therapy during cancer treatment. Radiation burns are often red and can cause the skin to itch, peel, swell, dry out, and blister.

Infection is a risk with this type of burn, usually indicated by a foul-smelling liquid, severe redness, and a fever.

Friction Burn Injuries

The final type of burn injury is a friction burn. These happen when the skin skids across a rough or hard surface, such as asphalt. Friction burns are common in bicycle or motorcycle accidents, as the rider or cyclist is more exposed and may be thrown from their bike or vehicle and skid across the road.

When friction burns occur in auto accidents, it’s commonly referred to as road rash. Road rash can affect any part of the body, but the hands, forearms, elbows, shins, and knees are especially vulnerable.

Friction burns can be severe, scraping multiple layers of the skin. When this happens, an injury victim may need extensive treatment, including skin grafts. 

Complications after a Burn Injury

However it’s caused, a burn injury is severe enough, but the potential complications can be even more so.

Burn injury complications can cause agonizing physical pain, mental anguish, and even death.

Common burn injury complications include:

Infection: Many burn injuries cause the skin to blister. If these blisters pop, resulting in an open wound, bacteria can get into them and cause an infection. While rare, infected burns can lead to blood poisoning (sepsis) and toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal.

Extreme pain: Even a minor burn can cause severe pain. This happens because the protective layer on the skin is damaged, exposing the nerve endings. This makes the skin far more sensitive, where even minor changes in the environment, such as air, can cause pain.

Scarring and disfigurement: More severe burn injuries can result in permanent scars. Even with skin grafts, a victim is unlikely to ever completely restore their appearance. This can cause depression and anxiety, sometimes lasting years or for the rest of a victim’s life. If scarring or disfigurement is visible, like on the face or hands, victims may become withdrawn, which can impact their confidence, relationships with others, and ability to work.

Shock: A burn injury can also cause a victim to go into shock. This happens because of a limited supply of oxygen, and it can be life-threatening. The most common symptoms of shock are paleness, cold or clammy skin, rapid breathing and a quick pulse, and unconsciousness.

Filing a Personal Injury Claim after a Burn Injury

If you’ve suffered a burn injury, whether at work or on the road, it can impact your life in multiple ways. Not only are you likely in severe pain requiring extensive — and expensive — treatment, but you also may not be able to work. On top of this, you may experience depression and withdraw from your friends and loved ones. This might impact you every day for the rest of your life — and that’s without considering other possible complications such as infections.

But if your injury was caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you may be able to claim compensation. This can go a long way to supporting your recovery, with common damages in burn injury claims comprising:

  • Payment for medical expenses, including consultations, emergency room fees, ambulance transfers, physical therapy, surgery, transport to and from hospital appointments, and medication.
  • Lost wages if you cannot work due to your injuries.
  • Expenses for prosthetics — including replacements — and adaptations you might need for your home to aid mobility. For example, if you need a limb amputated due to severe burns and use a wheelchair, you might need kitchen surfaces lowered so you can prepare and cook food.
  • Compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment.
  • Compensation for the loss of affection from a loved one and funeral expenses if your spouse, parent, or child has died from burn injuries.

Multiple parties might be liable for your burn injuries. This might be a person, such as another driver in a car accident or a company. Who is at fault for your injury depends on the specifics of your case.

Truck accidents: If a truck driver is acting recklessly — such as speeding or driving while intoxicated, fatigued, or distracted — while transporting flammable or hazardous material that could cause a thermal or chemical explosion and it crashes, causing a burn injury, you may be able to claim against the driver. Other parties that could be liable include:

  • The truck company — if they knowingly employ an unqualified driver or encourage their staff to violate federal guidelines on how long they can be on the road.
  • The cargo company — if they fail to secure a load or overload the truck’s axles.
  • A manufacturer — if a truck part is found to be defective and this caused the crash.

Car and motorcycle accidents: Another driver is usually the liable party in a car accident, though multiple people could be at fault if the crash involves multiple vehicles. Again, a manufacturer can be liable if a faulty part contributed to the crash. In some cases, a third party may be responsible, for example, if the company responsible for maintaining the road fails to do so and a road defect causes the accident.

Work injury accidents: If you suffer a burn injury on the job, you may be able to hold your employer liable. This depends on whether or not they possess workers’ compensation insurance, which isn’t mandatory in Texas. If your employer does not have insurance and was negligent — such as failing to provide you with protective equipment, which results in you inhaling chemicals — our work injury lawyers in San Antonio and McAllen can help you recover compensation. If your employer has workers’ compensation insurance, you may still be able to file a lawsuit if a third party’s negligence caused your accident. For example, if you are handling barrels of hazardous material and your PPE is defective and fails to protect you from a chemical burn, you may be able to sue the manufacturer of the PPE.

If your loved one tragically died from their burn injury, we can pursue compensation in a wrongful death claim.

Because the cost of burn injury treatment can be extensive, it can be worth filing a compensation claim alone simply to recover those costs. However, you could also be entitled to significantly more. Our dedicated burn injury lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio will fight to secure the maximum possible compensation you deserve. We’ll investigate the cause of your injury and who might be liable, negotiate with stubborn insurance companies, and arrange medical treatment. We’ll also postpone the cost, so you don’t have to worry about finding cash you don’t have.

If you’ve suffered any type of burn injury and think you might be entitled to compensation, you can book a free, no-obligation consultation with our compassionate and dedicated personal injury attorneys in San Antonio and McAllen. You can visit us in one of our offices, or we can come to you. During your case review, we’ll let you know if you have a claim and what you can expect. Call the Law Ninja Dr. Louis Patino and his team today at 855-LAW-NINJA or fill in the contact form.

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