Burn Injuries and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

In the Workforce, there are many workers who are at risk for sustaining burn injuries.  Many occupations expose workers to the risk of burns. These occupations include firefighting, food processing, and construction. Burn injuries can be serious. They can cause the need for extensive treatment, create severe impairments with respect to the ability to work, and severely impact an individual’s ability to perform activities of daily living.

This article is intended to discuss the nature of burns, the treatment for burns, the permanent disability from burns and the special law in the California Workers’ Compensation Labor Code which is applicable to burns.

What are the Sources of Burns in the Workplace? 


There are various sources of burns within the workplace.   Industrially-related burns can be from sustained flames, being scalded, being exposed to chemicals, being exposed to electricity, and coming in contact with heated objects.

What are Flame Burns?


Flame burns occur when the skin comes in contact with a flame.  This can include injuries from being exposed to the forest or building fires. Also, flame burns can include events such as an explosion of a stove, flames from kitchen gas, and the combustion from flammable materials.

What are Scalding Burns?


Scalding burns can include a variety of injuries. Many scalding burns can occur in the kitchen setting. They can involve such events as the spilling of hot food, the spilling of soup, the spilling of hot water and the spilling of cooking oil.

What are Chemical Burns?  


Chemical burns can occur when an individual is exposed to chemicals that are able to irritate or destroy human tissue.    Chemical Burns can be caused when the chemical is either in liquid or fume form.  Examples of chemicals that can cause chemical burns are ones which contain either strong acids or bases.   These include chemicals such which include hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide.  Chemicals which are oxidants can also cause burns. Some metals can cause chemical burns as well.  The length of contact with the chemicals can have an impact on the nature and extent of the burn.

What are Electrical Burns?


An Electrical Burn is one that is caused by electricity passing through the body causing injury.  Electrical burns are different from other burns because they can cause more subdermal damage.  In other words, they can cause deep tissue damage.

What are Contact Burns?


Contact Burns can occur as a result of the prolonged transfer of heat from an object to the skin.  Examples in daily life of Contact Burns can include one making contact with household appliances such as a stove or a lighting fixture, i.e. touching a hot light bulb.

Is the Source of the Burn Important?


Yes. The source of the burn is important.  The type of burn can significantly impact the nature and the course the treatment pursued.  Burns from flames, scalds, contact, chemical, or electrical each involve different injury patterns and properties.  As a result, depending on the burn, the nature and scope of treatment may vary.

Is there an Urgency in Dealing with Burn Injuries?


Absolutely. Burn Injuries can require immediate medical attention.  Immediate attention can help with the quality of the treatment and recovery. If an individual has a burn, it is recommended to take IMMEDIATE action to seek treatment. California has a number of burn centers that provide excellent treatment.

What Types of Burns are There?


There are a variety of types of burns. There are First Degree Burns, Second Degree Burns, and Third Degree Burns.

What is a First Degree Burn?


First Degree Burns are considered minor burns.  They affect the outer layer of the skin also known as the epidermis.   First Degree Burns can cause redness and pain.

What is a Second Degree Burn?


Second Degree Burns affect two layers of skin.   This includes the outer layer or the skin also known as the “epidermis” and the second layer of skin which is called the “dermis.” Second Degree Burns can cause blisters and scarring.  Second Degree Burns can cause swelling and severe pain. Second degree burns can cause red, white, or splotchy skin.


What is a Third Degree Burn?


Third Degree Burns affect the fat layer which is located beneath the skin.  Third Degree Burns can cause areas of skin to become black, brown or white.   Third Degree Burns can destroy nerves.  As a result, Third Degree Burns can cause numbness.

What are the Treatments for Burns?


Treatments for burns vary due to the nature of the burn. Treatments can range from medications, wound dressings, physical and emotional therapy, skin grafts and surgery.  Forms of treatment can include medications that clean and stimulate wound tissues, the provision of fluids to prevent dehydration,  medications, creams, ointments, dressings, antibiotics and tetanus shots.

Serious Burn Injuries’ medical treatment can include breathing assistance, feeding assistance, blood flow easing operations, skin grafts, and plastic surgery.

Can Burn Injuries Cause Other Injuries?


Yes. There is medical literature to support that Burn Victims can also suffer from psychological damage. “Acute stress disorder, nonorganic insomnia, and sexual dysfunction were the most commonly approved psychiatric disorders associated with work-related burn injury, followed by the mixed anxiety-depressive disorder.” See Work-related burn injuries and claims for post-traumatic stress disorder in Korea Kang Soo Lee So Young Joo Cheong Hoon Seo Joo Eon Park Boung Chul Lee https://doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2018.08.016

It is also reported that “[p]post-traumatic stress disorder is important psychopathology for burned patients as it can affect both physical outcomes and quality of life for those affected. Research states that PTSD may be identified in up to 30% of burns patients, making it relatively common.” See Which factors influence the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in patients with burn injuries? A systematic review of the literature Katherine Hobbs https://doi.org/10.1016/j.burns.2014.10.018

Are there Any Special Laws Concerning Burn Injuries?


Yes. Total Temporary Disability benefits are extended with respect to certain burn injuries. Workers’ Compensation has a special provision for individuals with severe burns or chemical burns to the eyes. Labor Code Section 4656, for injuries on or after 4/19/2004, allows for 240 compensable weeks of total temporary disability within a period of five years from the date of the injury as opposed to 104 weeks which is the baseline amount of total temporary disability benefits for most claims of injury.

Has there been any Caselaw Concerning Burns?


Yes. There has been caselaw concerning burns.  Some of the most significant caselaw involves the litigation as to what constitutes a “severe burn” for the purposes of extending out the total temporary disability period to 240 weeks.

It was stated in one case that “”‘[S]evere burns’ are not just any burns. The burn must be ‘severe’.”‘ (Sullivan v. State Comp. Ins. Fund, 2012 Cal.Wrk.Comp. P.D. LEXIS 44 at *7.) 2 In determining whether a burn is “severe” pursuant to section 4656(c)(3)(D), the following factors should be analyzed: 1) the extent of treatment; 2) the amount of resulting temporary disability; 3) the residual permanent disability; and, 4) the doctor’s medical classification of the burn. 3 (Id. at *10–11.)” Bautisa vs. Smith’s 2018 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 44.

As a result of this caselaw, it is possible that the entitlement to the extended total temporary disability benefits will be litigated.  In that instance, evidence to support the claim is important.

In order to prevail, the Injured Worker should have available evidence to support their claim that the burn was severe.   This evidence would include doctor’s notes concerning disability and medical records concerning the treatment. The physician’s description of the nature and extent of the burn would be helpful as well.

What is the Permanent Disability for Burn Injuries? 



Permanent Disability for Burn Injuries is to be evaluated by using the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, 5th Edition.   Burn Injuries can cover a large variety of different body systems.   Burn Injuries can produce skin impairments, orthopedic impairments, nerve damage impairments, and cosmetic impairments.  The systems impacted by a burn can literally involve every chapter of the guides. Therefore, a careful and thoughtful analysis should be done to cover each one.  Also, when making this evaluation, there should be an assessment as to how the burn impacts an individual’s ability to perform activities of daily living.

Where can I get advice?


If you would like a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation claim, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.

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