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William E. Weiss
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Burn Injury Lawyer in San Francisco Serving Throughout the Bay Area

Burn injuries are considered to be one of the most painful and traumatic personal injuries a person can suffer. According to the American Burn Association, each year in the United States, 1.1 million people sustain burn injuries requiring medical attention. Approximately 45,000 of these injuries are so severe as to require hospitalization. Every year, approximately 4,500 people die as a result of a burn injury and as many as 10,000 people die each year of infection while hospitalized for a burn-related injury.

Skin is the largest organ in the body, and it serves as a protective barrier against bacteria and evaporative water loss from the underlying tissues. Dehydration, infection, hypothermia and damage to internal organs are frequent short-term complications resulting from a burn injury. Long-term complications include severe emotional and physical scarring. The financial, physical and emotional toll of recovery from a burn injury is staggering.

Definition of Burn Injuries

A burn is defined as tissue damage caused by a variety of agents, such as heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight, or nuclear radiation. Burns caused by scalds, building fires, and flammable liquids and gases are the most common. Several factors are used to determine the severity of a burn, including the patient’s age, location of the burn, and depth and size of the burn.

Classification of Burn Injuries

Burn injuries are classified into the following categories:

  • First-degree burns affect only the outer layer (the epidermis) of the skin. A common example of a first degree burn is a sunburn.
  • Second-degree burns damage the epidermis and the layer of skin beneath it (the dermis). Scalding commonly results in second-degree burns.
  • Third-degree burns involve damage or complete destruction of the skin to its full depth and damage to underlying tissues. People who experience such burns often require skin grafting. This type of burn frequently results from flame or contact injuries.
  • Fourth-degree burns destroy both the epidermis and dermis, damaging underlying tendons, bone, fat tissue and muscle. High-voltage electrical injuries may result in a fourth-degree burn.

Inhalation Injuries

Burn victims who also suffer inhalation injuries are more likely to die as a result of their injuries. According to the United States Fire Association, 75% of all burn deaths are attributable to smoke inhalation of toxic gases produced by a fire, with actual flames and burns accounting for only 25% of all fire-related deaths.

Fire is associated with three types of inhalation injuries:

  • Damage from toxins. Over one hundred known toxic substances are present in burn smoke. Toxins prevent the body from properly absorbing oxygen and may cause permanent organ damage.
  • Damage from smoke inhalation. It is estimated that 75% of fatalities resulting from burn injuries are attributable to smoke inhalation.
  • Damage from heat inhalation. Heat inhalation occurs when one directly breathes in a heat or flame source, or when high pressure forces heat into the victim.

Legal Issues Related to Burn Injuries

Burn injuries are often caused by someone’s carelessness or failure to act (negligence), or by a defective product.

Negligence

Negligence is the failure to use reasonable due care to avoid a foreseeable injury to a person, place or thing. If you are negligent and your negligence results in injury to another person to whom you owe a “duty of care”, you may be liable for payment of damages for any injuries caused by your negligence.

A person may be considered “careless” or negligent if he or she fails to meet the standard of due care that is called for in a particular situation. The law generally requires that an individual exercise the same level of “due care” that a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances. This is referred to as the “reasonable person” or “reasonable man” standard.

Defective Products/Product Liability

Product liability refers to responsibility for harm caused by a defective product. A product liability claim may be brought against any member of the distribution chain of a dangerous or defective product, including the designer, manufacturer, supplier of component parts, the wholesaler, and the retail store that sold the product.

Product liability claims may arise out of negligence, breach of warranty or strict liability.

In a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that a manufacturer, seller, wholesaler or other party involved in the distributive chain had a duty to exercise reasonable care in the process of manufacturing or selling a product and failed to fulfill that duty, resulting in injury to the plaintiff. Negligence consists of doing something that a person of ordinary prudence would not do under the same or similar circumstances; or failing to do something that a person of ordinary prudence would do under the same or similar circumstances. Examples of negligence include failure to anticipate probable uses of the product, failure to inspect or test the product adequately, failure to issue adequate warnings or instructions regarding the use of the product, or any other aspect of the manufacturing or distribution process where due care is not used.

A breach of warranty claim arises under the law of contracts, where the law imposes certain “implied warranties” on the sale of goods. Such warranties include the warranty of merchantability (that the goods are in proper condition for use and free of defects), and the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose (e.g., a refrigerator must be able to keep food cold and fresh; a chair must be capable of supporting a person’s weight). These warranties are called implied warranties because the law assumes that they apply even if they are not expressly stated. If a product does not meet these standards, the purchaser may have the right to return it and get back the purchase price, or sometimes to receive monetary damages. The law of contracts covers economic loss caused by the breach of warranties in the sale of goods. The Uniform Commercial Code, Article 2, also deals with the sales of goods and the implied and express warranties of merchantability in the sales of goods §§ 2-314 and 2-315.

Strict liability refers to “liability without fault”. In a strict liability case, liability does not hinge on the defendant’s care or lack of care; if the product is shown to be defective, the defendant will be held liable regardless of whether they exercised the appropriate care or not. Thus, under strict liability, if the product has a defect that causes harm, the defendant will be held liable for the harm caused. In order to establish a product liability claim under strict liability, the plaintiff must show:

  1. A defect in the product caused the injury;
  2. The product was being used in a manner consistent with the way it was intended to be used; and
  3. The product was not substantially changed or modified from the time it left the seller or manufacturer’s hands.

Statute of Limitations

With any lawsuit, the statute of limitations restricts the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. In California, the statute of limitations for negligence is two years. Cal Code Civ Proc § 340. However, it should be noted that the statute of limitations is much shorter if a lawsuit is filed against a public entity, municipality or public employee; such claims must be filed within six months from the date of the accident. Cal. Code Gov. § 911.2

The statute of limitations for product liability cases in California is one year. Cal Code Civ Proc § 340. The statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff has knowledge of the injury and suspects wrongdoing. The existence of such knowledge is a factual determination for a jury to decide. A jury will consider the following factors in making this determination: 1) knowledge of the injury; and (2) knowledge of facts creating, or which in a reasonable person would create, a suspicion of negligence on the part of someone.

Under California’s statute of limitations, a plaintiff must bring a cause of action for wrongful death within two years of the date of death. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 355.1. However, if the plaintiff is a minor under the age of eighteen, the statute of limitations is tolled (suspended) until the plaintiff attains the age of eighteen. If an heir or beneficiary is comparatively negligent for the decedent’s death, negligence of an heir will merely be a ground for reduction of his damages.

There is no legal recourse for failing to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations. Therefore, it is essential to contact an attorney as soon as possible to preserve your legal rights before they are barred by law. It is important that an investigation of the facts of an accident or injury be undertaken as quickly as possible in order to secure evidence which otherwise could be destroyed or lost and to take statements from witnesses who could disappear or whose memories could fade.

Workers Compensation and Industrial Accidents

Many burn injuries are the result of industrial accidents at the workplace. California’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides the following benefits to workers who have been injured on the job:

  • Payment of medical expenses
  • Disability payments
  • Vocational rehabilitation payments
  • If the employee’s injuries are fatal, payment of death benefits and reasonable burial expenses

Under California law, employers are responsible for an employee’s injuries occurring on the job without regard to the employee’s carelessness or fault. However, California law also provides that if an employee takes Workers’ Compensation, the employee generally may not recover from the employer in any legal action other than Workers’ Compensation (subject to the exceptions mentioned below). Cal Lab Code § 3601. The employee therefore receives definite benefits without having to establish fault, but foregoes the ability to recover a wider range of damages potentially available in tort.

There are limited exceptions to the foregoing generalization that an employee recovering benefits under Workers’ Compensation is precluded from suing his or her employer; an employee may sue the employer for intentionally injuring the employee or knowingly allowed the employee to work in an environment that was known to the employer to be hazardous to the employee. For example, in the case of the Johns-Manville Corporation, the company knew that its employees were being continually exposed to life-threatening asbestos, but never removed the employees from the hazard and never warned its employees that the company knew that it was subjecting its employees to injuries, disease and death. California excludes such willful misconduct from the statutory protection, or the exclusive remedy, of Workers’ Compensation and allows such cases to be brought directly against the employer.

Even if an employee is precluded by law from suing his or her own employer, the employee may be entitled to recover from other parties who are responsible or partly responsible for the employee’s injuries; this is referred to as a “third party claim”. Unlike a Workers’ Compensation claim, where the employee is entitled to recover only part of their losses, in a third party claim the employee may potentially recover damages for disfigurement, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and emotional distress.

Resources for Burn Injury Victims

Burn injuries require specialized treatment that many medical facilities simply are not equipped to provide. Fortunately, burn injury victims in the San Francisco Bay Area have access to two facilities nationally recognized for their experience in burn treatment and research: University of California, Davis and Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Northern California.

University of California, Davis has the only burn treatment center in the region, and has a separate but linked burn treatment program with Shriner’s Hospital. UC Davis treats adults over the age of 18, and Shriner’s Hospital treats children with burn injuries. To learn more about the UC Davis Department of Burn Surgery, visit http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/surgery/specialties/burn/.

Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Northern California is the busiest pediatric burn treatment center in the State of California, and is in the top two or three in the nation for assisting the most pediatric burn victims each year. Services are provided free of charge through the generosity of donors; no child is turned away for inability to pay. To learn more about Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Northern California, visit http://www.shrinershq.org/Hospitals/Northern_California/.

Burn injury victims in Southern California have access to the Grossman Burn Center with locations in Sherman Oaks and Santa Ana. They specialize in the treatment of burn injuries. Their website is http://www.grossmanburncenter.com/.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital website has information on burn injuries in children: http://www.stlouischildrens.org/tabid/88/itemid/1306/Facts-About-Burn-Injury.aspx

The United States Fire Administration website has information and statistics on fire safety and prevention http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/index.shtm.

Seek Qualified Counsel to Advise You Regarding Your Burn Injury

Cases involving burn injuries are complex and require an attorney who has a thorough understanding of the symptoms, prognosis and treatment of burn injuries and is experienced in successfully handling cases involving burn injuries. You need a burn injury lawyer with the right combination of legal experience and medical knowledge to advise you about your legal rights and treatment alternatives to ensure that your rights are properly protected.

Burn injury cases are extremely time sensitive; it is imperative that measures be taken to ensure your proper diagnosis and treatment, preserve evidence, prove the nature and extent of your injuries, and enable experts to establish the cause of your injuries.

If you or a loved one has suffered a burn injury, call the Law Offices of William E. Weiss at 1-888-622-7274 today.

Don’t delay-you may have a valid claim and may be entitled to compensation for injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the applicable statute of limitations expires.

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