If a car accident involves a fire, vehicle occupants are likely to suffer severe if not fatal burn injuries. Complete recovery from the worst burn injuries is terribly painful and often proves impossible.
Fortunately, federal standards for car safety that address fuel containment in crashes have made vehicle fires rare, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) data indicate that in each year from 1993 to 2001, about 15,820 passenger vehicle occupants were exposed to fire in a car crash. Of those crash victims, 6 percent suffered moderate or severe burns, and about 75 percent suffered second- or third-degree burns over more than 90 percent of their bodies.
In other cases, contact with hot metal, hot water or steam escaping from a damaged radiator in a car crash, or contact with other heated elements of the vehicle after a wreck, may also result in burn injuries.
A Look at Burn Injuries
The Mayo Clinic classifies burns according to their severity:
- First-degree burn. Damage to the outer layer of skin (epidermis) causes pain, redness and drying, but does not blister.
- Second-degree burn. This is damage to the epidermis and part of the dermis, or the next layer of skin, that includes redness, blistering and swelling. Pain may be severe, and deep second-degree burns may cause scarring.
- Third-degree burn. Damage reaches the level of fat under the dermis, and may destroy nerves, which leaves the victim feeling numbness instead of pain. Skin may look stiff, waxy, white, leathery or tan after a third-degree burn.
- Fourth-degree burn. When trauma from a burn extends to muscles, tendons and bones it is considered a fourth-degree burn. Skin may be charred or blackened and, because nerve damage is extensive, a victim who survives may feel no pain.
Third- and fourth-degree burns or less-severe burns that cover the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint are medical emergencies, the Mayo Clinic says. Less-severe burns require medical treatment if they have not healed after several weeks, or if the victim experiences an increase in pain, swelling or redness, or a discharge in the burned area.
A severe burn injury causes disfigurement and requires a lengthy recovery, which may include multiple, painful skin graft surgeries. A severely burned crash victim may die from infection or other complications even with the best hospital treatment.
Inhaling hot air or smoke in the aftermath of a car crash can burn airways and cause breathing problems. Damage to the lungs from smoke inhalation can cause respiratory failure.
Vehicle Standards Should Curb Car Fire Injuries
Since the 1970s, standards for the design and manufacture of automobile fuel systems have required gas tanks to withstand the impact of most collisions and not lose integrity or spill enough fuel to contribute to a fire. Similar standards regulate the design and construction of radiators and their ability to contain hot water in a crash, as well as the design of exhaust and electrical systems, etc., to ensure protection from heat sources and burn injuries.
If an accident investigation shows that burn injuries were caused by the failure of one or more automotive systems in a car crash, it may be that the vehicle manufacturer, as well as a driver at fault for the accident, could be held accountable for the victim’s pain, suffering and financial losses.
Let Mariano Morales Law Investigate Your Car Accident Fire
Car fires are rare, but burn injuries suffered in a car accident are likely to be serious and potentially deadly. A car accident that results in a severe burn injury should be thoroughly investigated by experienced car accident attorneys who are looking out for the best interests of crash victims and their families.
At Mariano Morales Law, we investigate car accidents to help crash victims with the financial hardship that injuries like severe burns cause. We work to help accident victims to obtain compensation for medical bills, property damage, lost income and pain and suffering. We develop persuasive cases based on technical analyses of car crashes and projections for current and future medical costs, and we negotiate with insurance companies from a position of strength.
Contact the car accident attorneys of Mariano Morales Law in Yakima for a free initial consultation about your car crash injuries and your legal options. We represent residents of the Yakima Valley, the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick), and the Wenatchee, Grant County and Chelan County areas. Call us today at (509) 972-0493 or submit our online contact form for assistance.