What to Do After a Burn Injury at Work: Get Fair Compensation

Learn the steps to take after a burn injury at work. Find out what to expect from workers’ comp and other possible sources for compensation.

Despite safety rules and regulations in all industries, burn injuries continue to be a health risk for American workers.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), each year more than 5,000 people are hospitalized after getting burned at work.¹

Burn injuries at work can be very serious, requiring surgery, physical therapy, and extensive rehabilitation. Burn injury victims can be left with physical and emotional scars that may never heal.

If you’ve been burned in a workplace accident, you’re entitled to full workers’ comp benefits. In some cases, you may be eligible for additional compensation outside of the workers’ comp system.

What To Do After Getting Burned at Work

Follow these steps after a burn injury to protect yourself physically and financially. The primary consideration is your physical well-being, but your actions after a work accident can help maximize your injury compensation later on.

1. Get Immediate Medical Attention

Don’t wait, and don’t try to be tough. Some kinds of burns, like electric shocks, can cause internal damage. Even what seems like a minor burn, like grease splatter on your hand, can lead to blistering, swelling, and potential infection that keeps you off the job for days or weeks.

Even minor burns are painful and require prompt medical treatment to prevent infection. You should be given first-aid at the scene. Follow up with a medical professional to ensure the burned area heals properly.

Major burns are a medical emergency. Call 911 and ask for an ambulance. The injured worker may stop breathing or go into shock.

2. Report the Burn Incident to Your Employer

Your employer, or your supervisor, may have been on the scene when you were burned. If not, notify your employer of the incident as soon as you are able. If you’re in the hospital, a family member or friend can contact your employer on your behalf.

Most states have reporting deadlines for on-the-job injuries. Failing to notify your employer before the deadline can cost you the right to file for workers’ compensation benefits.

3. File a Workers’ Comp Claim for Burn Injuries

State workers’ compensation laws typically give you a year or more to file a workers’ compensation claim. Your employer should provide the paperwork and instructions you’ll need to file a claim.

If you’ve suffered serious burn injuries, consider contacting a personal injury attorney for legal advice before filing a worker’s comp claim. If you were hurt because of your employer’s gross negligence, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

In some states, accepting workers’ compensation benefits can make it impossible to sue your employer.

Types and Severity of Workplace Burn Injuries

Depending on the type and severity, burns at work can result in extensive skin damage, internal injuries, and complications including shock, infection, and cardiac arrest.

There are three main types of burn injuries:

  1. Chemical Burns: A chemical burn occurs when a synthetic, corrosive substance contacts soft tissue. Soft tissues include the skin, eyes, ears, and lungs. The main types of corrosive compounds are acids, bases, oxidizers, solvents, thinning agents, and alkylating agents.
  2. Electrical Burns: An electrical burn is a result of contact with either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Electrical burns occur from touching a functioning electrical socket or wire, falling into electrified water, or being struck by lightning.
  3. Thermal Burns: A thermal or heat burn is caused by contact with a flame, scalding steam, or hot liquids like water or grease. Thermal burns can also occur from touching hot, solid objects such as pipes, tools, engines, and motors.

Burn Ratings by Degree

Chemical, electrical, and thermal burns are rated according to their severity. The higher the number of degrees, the more severe the burn.

The amount of worker’s compensation you can get may depend on how badly you’ve been burned, calculated by the severity of the burns, how much of the body is affected, and the body location of the burns.

  1. First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of skin, called the epidermis. This is the least serious burn and generally results in redness, pain, and general discomfort.
  2. Second-degree burns are similar but more serious than first-degree burns. They affect both the epidermis and the second layer of skin (dermis) and cause redness, pain, and general discomfort. This type of burn often results in blisters and possibly some scarring.
  3. Third-degree burns extend into the fatty layer beneath the dermis. Third-degree burns can penetrate deep enough to destroy nerves. They often result in waxy, white, or leathery skin. These burns can be extremely painful.
  4. Fourth-degree burns are the most serious of all burn injuries. This type of burn penetrates deeply beneath the skin, causing nerve damage and charred muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Fourth-degree burns are often fatal.

Compensation Settlements for Burn Injuries

Employees burned at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Benefits include payment of medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses (medications, bandages, etc.), and about two-thirds of lost wages.

Worker’s Compensation for Mild Work-Related Burns

Medical expenses for relatively mild burn injuries will generally be less than $500 for a visit or two with a primary care provider or urgent care, along with medications and bandages. Depending on the location of the injury, the burned worker may only miss a few days or weeks of work.

Example: Server Scalded by Spilled Coffee

Erica makes $12 per hour/ $480 per week as a server at a popular diner. One busy morning, Erica was reaching for a freshly brewed pot of coffee when she lost her grip on the coffee pot handle. The pot tipped, spilling scalding coffee over her right hand.

Acting quickly, Erica’s co-worker ran cool water over her hand, then wrapped the hand in a clean, wet towel. Erica’s boss drove her to a nearby urgent care center. She was treated for first and second-degree burns to her hand. She was given burn cream and bandages, and told to return in a week for a follow-up examination.

Erica was out of work for three weeks, until her burns had healed and she could tolerate frequent hand washing.

Medical bills: $400

Lost wages benefit ($320/week x 3 weeks): $960

Estimated Workers’ Comp Settlement Value: $1,360

Erica was back to work in less time than it would take to negotiate a settlement with the worker’s compensation insurance company. She was satisfied with having her medical bills paid and getting a portion of her wages for the short time she was out of work. 

Workers’ Comp Settlements for Disabling Burn Injuries

Workplace burn victims often suffer severe damage that requires years of treatment, skin grafts, and rehabilitation. Many badly burned workers are permanently disabled by their injuries.

The workers’ comp rules are different for each state when it comes to calculating the financial value of severe injuries.

Serious burn injuries can result in a permanent partial disability, meaning the victim may be able to return to work in a limited capacity, or a permanent total disability, when the worker will never return to gainful employment.

Severe burn injury claims should be handled by an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Worker’s comp insurance companies are like any other insurer when it comes to fighting large payouts on high-dollar claims. Your attorney will ensure you are getting a fair settlement for your disabling work injury.

Treatment costs for serious burn injuries can range from$207,000 for moderate burns to more than $1.6 million for severe burns without complications. Common complications with severe burn injuries, like scarring, infections, and contractures, can push the treatment costs to over $10 million.

When you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), meaning your medical status will not improve despite further treatment, your doctor will determine an impairment rating based on the percentage of your disability.

If you and your attorney think a settlement is in your best interest, you can ask for a scheduled settlement award for the wage replacement portion of your workers’ compensation claim.

Federal and many state workers’ comp plans use a loss-of-use schedule of injuries to calculate permanent disability settlements. The schedule allocates a specific number of wage benefit weeks for each body part or function. Settlement for injuries not listed on the schedule can be negotiated by your attorney.

For example, let’s say the scheduled award for a hand injury is 244 weeks. The settlement is calculated by using the worker’s weekly wage benefit and the impairment rating. If you have a 50% impairment rating, you would get 122 weeks of wage benefits. If your workers’ comp weekly wage benefit is $500, your wage settlement would be 122 x $500 = $61,000.

Compensation Outside of Workers’ Comp

Unless your employer is outrageously negligent, you probably can’t sue your employer if you’re burned at work. In most states, that’s the trade-off for requiring employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance.

However, if your severe burn injuries are caused by a third party (meaning an individual or business other than your employer), you have the right to file a third-party lawsuit to recover your damages.

Third-parties who may have contributed to your burn injury include:

  • Manufacturer of defective machinery or equipment
  • Negligent parties other than your employer, like a vendor or sub-contractor
  • The at-fault driver if you were burned in a work-related vehicle accident

Unlike workers’ comp, in a third-party lawsuit you can pursue all of your lost income, all of your lost future earnings, consortium claims from your spouse and family, a money value for your pain and suffering, and in some cases, punitive damages.

Case Summary: Jury Awards $58 Million to Severely Burned Worker

Joseph Griggs was grading land on a job site with a Caterpillar J-621, when an O-ring in the hydraulic line failed. The hydraulic fluid caught fire, spraying Mr. Griggs who was critically burned in the enclosed cab of the Caterpillar.

Through his attorneys, Mr. Griggs filed a product liability lawsuit against the Caterpillar manufacturing company.

Mr. Griggs suffered burns over 75% of his body, requiring more than 25 surgical revisions as of the trial date, with many more revision surgeries to come.

After nearly three weeks of expert testimony and attorney arguments, the jury awarded $58 million to Mr. Griggs, including $10 million for past and future economic damages, and $48 million for pain and suffering.

If you’ve been badly burned at work, there’s too much to lose by trying to handle your injury claim alone. It costs you nothing to find out how a personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation you’re entitled to for your injuries.

Burned at Work Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>