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How Should I Handle Chemical Burns after a Car Accident?

Chemical Burns

One of the most important things to do when involved in a car accident is to focus on safety and survival.  The worst accidents are the most disorienting, and being able to perceive and address immediate dangers can make the difference between life and death. 

Common injuries caused by car accidents include broken bones and concussion wounds from impact and burns from gasoline fires. The immediate concern after an accident is getting to a safe location.  Avoiding traffic and moving away from the crash site will help avoid further injuries such as getting hit from nearby traffic or burned from the crashed vehicles later erupting in fire.  Moving out of the way is a good first step in surviving an accident. 

What can Cause Chemical Burns after a Car Accident?

Another danger from car accidents is the risk of chemical burns that can cause serious pain and personal injury.  Chemical burns are possible from a few components of cars.  Air bags are one.  They contain a canister charged with sodium azide that releases nitrogen gas into the airbag. Sodium is released, which can react with water to form sodium hydroxide, a chemical that can cause severe burns.

Another possible source of chemical burns is battery acid.  Car batteries use lead and sulfuric acid to store the energy needed to start a car.  The battery is sealed, and the acid should never leak during normal operation.  However, a strong enough collision involving the front end of a vehicle can cause the plastic battery container to crack and leak sulfuric acid.  Other chemicals, mostly liquids in the machinery under the hood, may also cause irritation or burns. 

Effects of chemical exposure will depend on the type of chemical; concentration of chemical; length of time of exposure; route of exposure; and whether the exposure was to a solid, liquid, or gas. 

Skin contact is the most common route of exposure.  It is also possible for the chemical to contact eyes and mouth or be swallowed or inhaled.  Notably, chemical burns can worsen over time.  Failure to address chemical burns at once can result in the chemical penetrating into deeper layers of skin and causing greater damage.

What to Do after Chemical Exposure

Getting the substance off the skin is a priority after an accident.  The most common and universally best approach is to remove drenched fabrics and flush the affected area with copious amounts of water.  Unfortunately, water may be in short supply immediately after an accident.  Adequate treatment may need to wait until a first responder arrives at the scene. 

If the exposure was from inhalation or ingestion, there may be alternative interventions necessary to attempt to minimize the damage.  Oxygen is often used for respiratory support.  It may be possible to administer an appropriate antidote or neutralizing compound to reduce internal injuries after ingestion.  All injuries should be evaluated and treated by a trained medical professional as soon as possible after an accident.  Medical interventions for chemical burns will vary depending on the source of the burn and the degree. 

What are Degrees of Burns? 

Chemical burns to the skin are rated by degree depending on how deep into the tissue they have reached.  There are three degrees of burns, with the third being the most damaging.  First-degree burns damage only the top layer of skin and are often red and painful.  Second-degree burns penetrate to the second layer of skin and produce a characteristic blister and even greater pain.  Third-degree burns penetrate to the deepest layer of skin and permanently damage the underlying tissue including blood vessels and nerves.  These burns do not always cause pain, as the nerves are often destroyed. 

Indications that a burn should be treated in hospital are if the burn covers a large area; is on sensitive areas including face, hands, feet, groin, and buttocks; or is over a major joint.  Any burn victim exhibiting signs of shock including shallow breathing, low blood pressure, and/or dizziness should also be treated for burns in a hospital. 

There is a high risk of infection from burn wounds, which increases with greater degrees of burn and size of the wounds.  Patients with severe enough burns will be transferred to a burn treatment center to receive specialized and expert treatment. 

How are Burns Treated?

Burn treatment will depend on the severity of the wounds.  Deeper third-degree burns will require debridement, which involves cleaning the area and removing debris and dead tissue.  The burns may cause pain and itching, and medications to address these symptoms can be administered. 

Doctors will assess the need for antibiotics on a case-by-case basis.  More severe wounds and those in elderly patients or those with diabetes may automatically be prescribed intravenous antibiotics prophylactically.  Others may only require application of a topical antibiotic.  Special dressings are applied to prevent infection and encourage skin regrowth. At times, skin graft surgery will be necessary to cover exposed tissue.  A skin graft helps return normal tissue rather than scar tissue to the area. 

What is Recovery Like after a Chemical Burn?

The amount of long-term injury and disfigurement that can be caused by burns will depend on the degree, the area of skin involved, and the location of the burn.  It will also depend on how quickly and effectively the burn was treated and if there were any complications such as an infection. 

Long-term complications from burns are possible and can include:

  • Muscle and tissue damage
  • Scarring and limited range of motion
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of limb

The recovery from extensive burns and complications can be difficult and involve setbacks, multiple surgeries to repair damage and address disfigurement, and physical therapy to recover strength and range of motion.  There are also emotional barriers that need to be overcome.  These can be debilitating and require professional care.  Depression, flashbacks, nightmares, and in extreme cases post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in burn patients.  These conditions can last for a protracted period and can interfere with the ability to sustain personal relationships, return to work, and other activities.

What can I Do to Recover Damages from Chemical Burns?

Burn victims injured in a car accident can seek compensation in court.  States differ in the level of proof required to recover from a car accident, and there may be limits on recovery if the burn victim was somehow at fault.  Compensation can cover past and future medical expenses as well as lost salary. 

Burn victims often suffer severe disfigurement and can be left with ongoing pain.  In this case, it is possible to obtain compensation for pain and suffering in these circumstances.  Pain and suffering is about the physical and/or emotional stress caused by the injuries sustained.  Severe burn victims can be compensated for the agony of undergoing burn treatment and limitations and infringements on their lifestyle.  The compensation can cover the stress and limitations they will have to endure by being permanently scarred and/or disfigured.

The estimate of how much compensation for pain and suffering is due is not that clear-cut.  Insurance companies will often multiply cost of medical care by a number from one to five to determine the level of compensation.  The greater the degree of pain and suffering, the higher the multiplier. An insurance company may offer to settle without adequately providing compensation for pain and suffering.  It is important to seek advice from an experienced car accident lawyer before accepting an insurance settlement.  Acceptance of the offer will bar efforts to seek further compensation in court.

There may be more than one defendant in a burn injury case.  For example, if the accident can be shown to be the fault of egregious misconduct by an auto manufacturer of a vehicle involved in the accident, courts can award punitive damages to a prevailing plaintiff against the manufacturer. 

Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, Help Accident Victims Recover

If you or someone you know has been seriously injured or burned in a car accident, contact the Philadelphia car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, before accepting an offer from an insurance company to settle.  Our experienced lawyers can examine the facts and evaluate whether a settlement offer is appropriate and can advise on the best way to proceed.  Call us today at 215-569-8488 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.