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Burn Injuries

Burn Injuries

What is a burn?

A burn is a physical injury caused from exposure to any form of heat. These burns can be categorized based upon the nature of the heat source (burn type), depth of the burn (burn classification), and severity.

Types of Burns

The  World Health Organization defines a burn as “an injury to the skin or other organic tissue primarily caused by heat or due to radiation, radioactivity, electricity, friction or contact with chemicals.” This definition emphasizes the four predominantly recognized types of burns—thermal, chemical, electrical, and radiation. These categories are determined based upon the nature of the heat source that is the cause of the burn.


Thermal burns are the most straightforward and are what people typically think about when discussing burns. Thermal burns are caused by exposure to a heat source such as a flame, boiling water, a hot stove, etc. Because thermal burns come from such diverse heat sources, they are further sub-classified as contact, flame, flash or scald burns.

  • Contact burns, as the name suggests, result from skin contact with hot coals, glass, metals or plastics.
  • Flame burns result from exposure to open flame. The burn worsens based upon the duration of the exposure and the intensity of the heat from the flame.
  • Flash burns are a specific type of flame burn that results from very brief exposure to a highly intense heat.
  • Scalds are burns caused by hot liquids.


Chemical burns are caused by exposure to either acid an (e.g. hydrochloric or sulfuric) or an alkali (e.g. ammonia or lime). The extent of the burn depends on the properties of the chemical, the tissue area involved, and the duration of the contact before cleansing. In general, alkali burns are more severe because alkalis tend to penetrate tissue more rapidly and deeply than acids do. Immediate treatment focuses on irrigating the tissue to stop the chemical reaction process. Because of the complexity of chemical burns, victims should seek immediate medical attention if they start going into shock; the burn penetrates the top layer of skin; the burn is near the eyes, hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or over a major joint; or the pain cannot be controlled with over-the-counter pain relievers


Electrical burns are caused when electricity passes through the body. Due to the nature of these burns, they can cause damage below the skin without reflecting the full extent of the injury on the surface. This makes electrical burns difficult to diagnose. In some cases they can directly affect important organs like the brain or heart. All of this makes medical treatment particularly important for electrical burns.


Radiation burns are caused by exposure to radiation such as UV, X-ray, or radio waves.  The greatest danger from these burns is the potential to damage cellular structure which can potentially lead to cell mutation and cancer. Even the most common type of radiation burn, a sunburn, can have serious consequences over time.


Inhalation injuries are not one of the four major types of burns, but they are so common and so severe that they deserve special mention. Inhalation injuries occur in nearly one-third of all major burns and are a significant cause of death among burn victims. These injuries can take the form of smoke inhalation or burns to the inside of the throat.

Classification of Burns

Burn classification is a term used to describe the depth of a burn. Most people are familiar with the first three classifications—first, second, and third degree—but burns are actually classified all the way up to the sixth degree. Fourth degree burns are often fatal and fifth and sixth degree burns are typically diagnosed during an autopsy.


First Degree

First degree burns are often superficial. They only damage the outermost layer of your skin and do not typically require medical attention. First degree burns are often visible as red blotches on the skin but do not blister. They are often accompanied by a moderate stinging pain and should heal naturally in 5-10 days. Common examples of first degree burns include sunburns without blisters, minor scalds, and low voltage electrical shocks.

Second Degree

Second degree burns are also known as partial-thickness burns. These burns go beyond the outer layer of skin and damage the living tissue underneath where blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands, and hair follicles reside. Second degree burns typically present as red skin with blisters. The skin may turn white when pressure is applied and may feel moist to the touch.  These are the most painful burns and are extremely sensitive to the touch. With proper care, second degree burns should heal within 2-3 weeks.

Third Degree

Third degree burns are also known as full-thickness burns. They do not simply damage living skin tissue, they completely destroy it. Because third degree burns completely destroy the nerve endings in the skin, they are painless. Third degree burns appear as dry, leathery skin that is stiff and white or brown. Even with specialized care, these burns can take several months to heal and may leave permanent complications in some cases.

Fourth Degree

Fourth degree burns go beyond the skin and into the underlying fat, muscle and tendons. They present as black, charred burns that feel dry and flakey to the touch. Like third degree burns, fourth degree burns are painless because the nerve endings in the skin are completely destroyed. Very few burn victims are able to survive burns that go this deep. For those who do survive, amputation or surgical removal of the affected and surrounding area is normally required.

Fifth and Sixth Degree

Burns of the fifth or sixth degree are burns that have gone all the way through the skin, fat, muscle tissue, and tendons and have damaged the bone. These burn classifications have historically been reserved for autopsy reports, but with advancements in modern medicine  it is possible to survive these burns with prompt medical care.

Severity of Burns

In order to more efficiently refer burn victims to specialized burn units, the  American Burn Association developed a classification system for determining burn severity. This test uses the burn classification system mentioned above in addition to the size of the burn measured as a percentage of total body surface area (TBSA), victim characteristics, and location of the burn. The classifications under this system are minor, moderate, and major with major being the most life threatening.

Common burn sources

All burns can be harmful, but there are a few unfortunately common types of accidents that present a heightened risk of victims sustaining serious burns that require immediate medical treatment. The most prevalent types of accidents include vehicle accidents, most typically automobiles, and gas explosions.

Vehicle Accidents

There were over 2 million people injured in automobile accidents in 2009 alone.  While total automobile injuries have been falling consistently over the last two decades, these types of injuries are still far too common and remain a constant possibility for nearly all Americans. Even minor car accidents can lead to thermal or electrical burns as safety components meant to insulate certain dangerous components of the vehicle become dislodged. More serious accidents can lead to dangerous car fires

Gas Explosions

A gas explosion is the result of a gas leak that has combined with an ignition source. Gas explosions can cause severe thermal burns to anyone in the vicinity. Equipment or pipes, buildings or offshore facilities, and enclosed or open spaces all can harbor a gas explosion. They often occur in industrial or agricultural settings, but as many people use natural and propane gas, the risk of burn injury in a domestic situation is high as well.

Our Attorneys

injury lawyer kirk morgan

Kirk Morgan


injury lawyer billy walker

Billy Walker


injury lawyer will walker

Will Walker


injury lawyer chuck slaughter

Chuck Slaughter


Types of Burns

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Degrees of Burns

First , second , and third degree burns

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Burn Injuries

There are many types of burn injuries

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Scald Burn Injury

Caused when very hot liquids come into contact with skin

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Electrical Burns

Electricity can burn the skin and is capable of causing internal damage

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Chemical Burns

Caused when a strong acid or base comes into direct contact with skin

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Car/Boating Accidents

Thermal burns can occur if the car catches fire or explodes

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Gas Explosions

Caused when a gas leak combines with an ignition source

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Worker’s Compensation

If you've been burned on the job, you may need legal guidance

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E-Cigarette Burns

Can be caused by defective batteries or overheated vapor

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