Settlement Value of a Burn Injury Claim

How much should you expect in a settlement for a burn injury claim? It depends on the nature of the injury and the type of claim.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School

As with any personal injury, it's very difficult to make an accurate prediction as to what a burn injury settlement will turn out to be. The biggest factors are the severity of the injury, the intentions of the person who caused the burns (the defendant) and the extent to which a defendant can pay a settlement. Burn injuries tend to have higher settlement value due to the pain and permanent scarring.

This article discusses the considerations that go into calculating a burn injury settlement, and gives some recent examples of real-world burn injury settlements.

If you've got a good idea of your medical expenses and the impact on your income, you can use our settlement calculator to get a starting point for settlement negotiations.

Where and How Did The Accident Happen?

In reaching a settlement, both sides will negotiate based on what they believe the plaintiff will be awarded at trial. How and where the burn injury occurs is important because the degree of the defendant's liability (how bad the situation looks, in other words) can affect how much a jury might be willing to award at trial. Obviously, there is no one kind of burn injury case. They can happen in a variety of ways, including workplace injuries, faulty consumer products, arson or other intentional burning, and any kind of accident caused by negligence.

Take a workplace injury for example. If the plaintiff was burned by an accident that may or may not have been preventable, the perceived value of the case (i.e. the predicted damages award at trial) will be much lower than if the accident was caused by the employer's failure to follow safety regulations. The lower the perceived value, the lower the settlement amount the parties will eventually agree on.

Availability of Punitive Damages

If the defendant acted intentionally or very negligently (known as "gross negligence" in legal terms) the burn victim (the plaintiff) may also be able to receive punitive damages.

Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant that acted in a reprehensible manner, therefore a wealthy defendant will have to pay higher amounts in order to "feel the sting." A defendant that intentionally burned a plaintiff will almost always be exposed to punitive damages.

But punitive damages for gross negligence are harder to predict. An example of gross negligence would be a product manufacturer not conducting any testing on a product, even though the product was sold to be used in situations that could involve exposure to flame. If a plaintiff uses the product (an oven mitt, for example) and is badly burned, the oven mitt manufacturer could potentially be required to pay thousands or millions of dollars in punitive damages. Therefore, the threat of punitive damages will generally make a defendant (especially a wealthy one) more likely to settle the case at a higher amount than otherwise.

Compensation for Physical and Emotional Pain and Suffering

Compensation for burn injuries will involve the same types of damages that are on the table in other personal injury cases. However, burn injuries in particular can be extraordinarily painful and can lead to permanent, severe disfigurement.

A liable defendant must not only compensate a plaintiff for the physical pain the burn caused and will continue to cause, but also any emotional pain a disfigured burn victim has suffered and will suffer in the future. An emotional pain and suffering award will take into account the extent and nature of the disfigurement, since it is based on the likelihood of the plaintiff being embarrassed, depressed, or experiencing any of the other emotional reactions likely caused by a disfigurement. A plaintiff with a badly burned face, for example, will receive a much higher damage award than a plaintiff with a permanent scar in the middle of his or her back.

Examples of Burn Injury Settlements

Product Liability Settlements

  • A patient in a hospital was burned when his bed caught fire due to a product design defect. The bed manufacturer settled for $1,000,000.
  • A manufacturer of a highly flammable skirt settled with the injured plaintiff, who suffered third-degree burns and permanent scarring on and near her waist, for close to $4,000,000.

General Negligence Settlements and Verdicts

  • A hotel allowed its hot water system to produce scalding hot water. An already-disabled plaintiff lowered himself into a bathtub and received second degree burns. The hotel settled for $275,000.
  • In a famous case, a woman received a $640,000 verdict from McDonald's when she suffered third-degree burns from scalding hot coffee.
  • A plaintiff suffered second and third degree burns to his mid and lower body when fumes from an overfilled propane tank ignited while the plaintiff was operating his barbeque. Defendant, who owned the gas station where the tank was filled, settled for $970,000.

Special Case: Workers' Compensation Settlements

A workplace burn injury that does not involve employer negligence will typically only be paid out by the worker's compensation carrier.

The award in a worker's compensation claim is typically much lower than what can be expected in a traditional personal injury civil lawsuit. The standards of compensation vary from state to state, but if a plaintiff is not disabled by the injury and does not have disfiguring scars, the worker's compensation payment may not be very high.

For example, a worker who receives second and third degree burns on his lower legs with some scarring, but is not otherwise disabled or impaired, might expect to receive roughly $40,000 or less. Worker's compensation laws are quite complex and settlement involves missing out on important, regular payments. An injured worker should consider hiring an experienced worker's compensation attorney.

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