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Burn Injuries

By Kosieradzki Smith Law Firm / July 31, 2013

The American Burn Association (ABA) reports that there are 500,000 burn injuries each year in the United States that receive medical treatment. The ABA reports that there are 3,500 deaths from residential fires and 500 deaths from motor vehicle and aircraft crashes, or from exposure to electricity, chemicals or hot liquids and substances, and other sources of burn injury.

Hot water scald burns are the most common type of thermal injury in children. Studies have shown that tap water injuries have accounted for 14.3% and 16.9% of hospitalized patients with scald burns. Scald burns are the leading cause of pediatric burn admissions and related morbidity, as well as a major cause of pediatric death. Scalds caused by hot tap water account for between 2500 and 4500 hospital admissions each year in the US. At least 459 deaths from tap-water scalds occurred across the US from 1979 to 1986, an average of 57 deaths per year. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year, approximately 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in the home due to scalding from excessively hot tap water. The majority of these accidents involve the elderly and children under the age of five. Tap water and other scalds are most frequent at the toddler and preschool ages. In one study, in 45% of the tap water injury, the victim or a peer turned on the water.

Either the water temperature has to be low enough to preclude injury or the person who takes care of the child has to be constantly vigilant to prevent such injury. Education is not likely to prevent human error, but decreased water temperature would. The most effective approaches to prevention of childhood accidents do not depend on the cooperation of the child or the person who is taking care of him. Single parent or economically disadvantaged households have been identified by researchers as risk factors.

Leading research in the field of water scald burn injuries has adopted the tactic of passive injury prevention by focusing on changing the setting of the water heater and not targeting the need for improvement of parents’ supervisory skills. In other studies of pediatric injury prevention, similar passive strategies were determined to be more effective than active ones requiring behavior changes in the parents. One study showed that 26% of water scald injuries occurred in sinks or portable tubs, as opposed to bathtubs and showers. Water temperature control throughout the residential premises would prevent these injuries.

Although scalds caused by hot tap water are not uncommon, many people are not aware that ordinary household tap water can be a source of injury. People may recognize the danger but may not be aware of the short exposure periods that can result in serious burns. Three populations are particularly at risk for tap-water scalds: children less than 5 years of age, elderly people and people with disabilities. Young children may not be able to respond quickly to a situation involving contact with hot water because their physical condition is underdeveloped. The resulting increased time of contact with hot water increases the risk of significant injury. Risk is further increased in young, active, curious children because they cannot comprehend the dangers of hot water.

Full thickness (third degree) burns involve destruction of all layers of the skin, may involved fat, muscle and bone; will require skin graft for healing; charred veins may be visible. The following chart shows the mean home bathtub temperature (±2 SD) plotted on a curve of duration of exposure to hot water required to cause full thickness scalds of adult skin at various water temperatures.



At 49°C (120°F) it takes 10 minutes and at 52°C (125°F) it takes two minutes to cause full thickness burns of adult skin. A child’s skin burns in less time.  It has been hypothesized that at temperatures >130°F, children can burn in one fourth to one half the time of adults. Second- and third-degree burns are estimated to occur in 1 second at 140°F and in only half of a second at 149°F.

Tap-water scalds are preventable.  Setting water heaters at a lower temperature (49°C [120°F]) significantly reduces the number and severity of scalds from tap water.   A water temperature of 49 to 52°C (120 to 125°F) is a reasonable compromise between a household’s need for volume of hot water and safety.

If you or someone you love have suffered a serious burn injury or hot water scald injury because of another’s negligence or wrongful actions, you need a Minnesota burn injury liability lawyer with the skill, experience and dedication needed to tackle the complex factual and legal issues.  You can count on and trust the Kosieradzki • Smith Law Firm’s experience, commitment and resources to ensure that your rights are protected.  If you or someone you love have suffered a serious burn injury or hot water scald injury because of another’s negligence or wrongful actions, contact the Kosieradzki • Smith Law Firm online or call our firm at (763) 746-7800, or toll-free at (888) 545-7640, for a free no-obligation consultation.