You might remember or have heard of the famous blazing hot cup of McDonald’s coffee.
Back in 1992, Stella Liebeck bought a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque, NM. She placed the cup between her knees to take off the lid and add cream and sugar. The cup tipped and spilled scalding hot coffee into her lap, resulting in third-degree burns that required eight days in the hospital and skin grafts. Stella was hoping to settle with McDonald’s for her medical bills and lost income, about $20,000 at the time. After McDonald’s offered only $800, she took them to court, and a jury awarded her about $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages after hearing testimony from experts on the dangerous temperature McDonald’s knowingly brewed their coffee. The two parties ended up agreeing to a settlement post-verdict.
Every situation must be evaluated on its own merits but settling a lawsuit might leave you with less than you deserve.
Importance of Personal Injury Claims
Using lawsuits to hold individuals and companies accountable for callous or reckless behavior is an important mechanism for change and reparation. In the top 10 list of the most common personal injury claims, car accidents rank No. 1 with workplace accidents rounding out the top five. A significant amount of burn claims falls into one of these categories.
Each year, more than 1 million burn injuries in the U.S. require medical attention, and about 4,500 people succumb to those injuries. Yet another 10,000 people die from infections related to their burns.
Accidents or carelessness account for some of the burns but others are a direct result of someone else’s negligence or willful act. In these cases, you may be owed compensation for your medical expenses, pain, and suffering.
Types Of Burns
A fire or flame certainly causes burns though it is not the only culprit.
- Thermal burns are caused by fires but also hot water, steam, and heated objects.
- Chemical burns are caused by a strong acid or base, usually in detergents or solvents.
- Electrical burns occur when electrical currents come in contact with the body.
- Radiation burns result from prolonged exposure to radiation, such as the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
Levels of Burn Severity
First-, second-, and third-degree burns are in our lexicon, but what do they mean? The severity of the burn is categorized from first degree (least severe) to sixth degree (most severe). The more severe the burn, and the more surface area affected, the higher the chance of death. People can survive fourth- and fifth-degree burns but suffer disfigurement and amputation. Sixth-degree burns are generally fatal.
- First-degree burns damage the outer layer of the skin. A sunburn is an example.
- Second-degree burns damage the outer layer and the one underneath it.
- Third-degree burns damage both layers of skin, including hair follicles and sweat glands, and damage underlying tissues. These burns always require skin grafts.
- Fourth-degree burns extend into fat.
- Fifth-degree burns reach beyond fat and into muscle.
- Sixth-degree burns reach to the bone.
Can I Sue for My Burn Injury?
If you have been burned as a direct result of someone else’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing, you can file a burn injury lawsuit. One of our experienced attorneys at Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC can evaluate the strength of your case before filing. We can determine what types of damages you may be able to recover. Because of a burn’s scarring, potential disfigurement, and pain level, these settlements can have a higher value.
Depending on the circumstances, we can help you pursue compensation for the following damages:
- Present and future medical bills
- Lost wages and other income
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Property damage
- Punitive damages (in cases of gross negligence)
Timing is also important. In South Carolina, there is a statute of limitations of three years on most personal injury cases. That means you must file within three years of your injury. The Palmetto State also has a modified comparative fault rule. The damages possible are reduced by the percentage of your fault. If you are deemed to be 50% or more at fault, you will not be eligible to receive any damages.
Phases of Burn Injury Lawsuit
Like other personal injury claims, there are several phases of a burn injury lawsuit. Each phase takes time, so patience is necessary.
The following is a general road map of a burn injury lawsuit:
- Complaint. The Complaint describes how you were injured, why the other party is at fault, and what injuries you have sustained due to their wrongdoing.
- Discovery. The attorneys on both sides show what evidence they intend to use at trial, and what explanations will be offered as to the cause of the accident.
- Deposition. The plaintiff’s attorney questions the defendant and witnesses. All answers are given under oath and recorded by a court reporter. The defendant is also deposed.
- Mediation. A neutral third attorney listens to both sides, and this mediator goes back and forth between the other two attorneys in hopes of reaching a settlement.
- Trial. This occurs if mediation fails. A jury decides whether damages should be awarded.
Burn Injury Settlements
How, where, and why the burn occurred has a great impact on the amount of damages you can expect from your claim. The injury’s location on the body affects the settlement. Scarring of the face will garner more damages than scarring on the back. The extensiveness of the injury and how life-altering the consequences are all factor into the amount of the settlement.
A workplace accident that resulted from a willful disregard of safety protocols by the employer will more likely get a much higher settlement than an accident happening in the home. If you are injured at work because of defective equipment, you could have a product liability claim. Being burned in a car accident caused by a drunk driver would have the potential for higher value damages.
In all cases, punitive damages may be granted if the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the harm was done because of the defendant's willful, reckless, or wanton conduct. South Carolina law caps punitive damages at three times the compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is more.
Don’t Settle Without Talking to an Attorney
Insurance companies employ tactics to minimize your injuries or place blame at your feet. Their goal is to protect their client, not to ensure you are properly compensated for your injuries. Our experienced lawyers at Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC have effectively represented clients of burn injuries from a wide range of causes, and we are dedicated to getting maximum compensation for your claims.
Contact us today for a free review of your burn injury. Reach us by phone at (843) 968-0886 or online.