Of all fires reported in the U.S. roughly 20 percent are vehicle fires. Fire breaks out in only 0.1 percent of vehicle crashes. Yet fire was a factor on 2.8 percent of fatal crashes. Vehicle fires after crashes thus account for comparatively few crash fatalities. Unfortunately, burns sustained in Vehicle Crashes typically cause fatalities or very severe injuries. In addition, these patients have undergone the mental and emotional trauma of being trapped in a burning car.
Burns caused by fire, hot metal, steam, or scalding liquids are called Thermal burn injuries. These burns are common when there is fire after a vehicle crash. Thermal burns almost always cause deep burn injury, often third and fourth degree burns. Recovery form such severe burns may require years to heal entirely, and the treatment is very expensive. A large number of these severe burns cause damage so severe or widespread that it is impossible for the victim to return to the workplace.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Efforts to Reduce Crash Fires
The primary reason the number of vehicle fires after crashes and the number and intensity of burns sustained in vehicle crashes is as small as reports indicate is that NHTSA has researched and implemented standards to prevent these fires.
• In 1970 standards limited the amount of allowable fuel that could spill from a motor vehicle’s fuel systems both during and after the vehicle is involved in a crash. These standards apply to frontal, rear, and side impacts. When fire breaks out in a vehicle crash it is because the fuel containment system failed. It is important that NHTSA investigate and assess the reason for the failure. Further, if a personal injury suit is considered, the reason for the failure may be important in establishing liability.
• Also in the 1970s, NTHSA adopted standards and burn resistance standards for the materials used in the passenger section of the vehicle. These standards apply to automobiles, multi-purpose passenger vehicles, trucks and buses that weigh less than 10,000 pounds.
• Analysis of crashes with fire was conducted for 1993 to 2001 by the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS). They found that each year approximately 15,820 passenger vehicle occupants were exposed to fire in crashes. The study also found that roughly 736 (or 6 percent) of those vehicle occupants sustained moderate or severe burns. Of those, roughly 75 percent sustained second to sixth degree burns that covered more than 90 percent of the body.
• In 2003, the NHTSA upgraded the standards for rear-impact collisions because it determined that 3.5 percent of the light vehicle passenger fatalities (1,449) in 2001 resulted from crashes involving fire. From these analyses, it was considered that fire was the most harmful event in the crash for nearly 24 percent of the fatalities.
• Other standards concern radiator integrity and for electrical wiring and exhaust systems in vehicles.
Flames are not the only source of burns in a vehicle crash. Burns can also be sustained by contact with hot metal, hot water or steam escaping from a damaged radiator, or contact with other hot vehicle parts. A crash with a vehicle carrying toxic chemicals can also cause chemical burns to accident victims.
Kinds of Burn Injuries that Occur in Car Crashes
- Many kinds of burn injuries can be sustained in a vehicle crash. Among the most common are:
1. Facial Burns, including the neck and throat, are very challenging to treat. These injuries are particularly painful. They also typically require multiple surgical procedures. If scarring is severe or extensive, it may be quite visible and become a reminder of the crash and a perceived barrier to social interaction.
2. Burns to the Arms might mean that the individual cannot use her arms during the healing and rehabilitation process. This often requires a full time caregiver to perform tasks.
3. Burns to the Legs can damage the ability of the limbs to bear weight adequately. This may limit the individual’s freedom to leave the house and might confine her to a wheelchair during the healing and rehabilitation process.
4. Burns to the Torso treatment becomes very difficult. These burns are often quite large, and burns to this area often take more time to heal. If the burn is very deep, it may involve danger to organs.
5. The pain of burns often makes it difficult for people to sleep and get the rest needed for healing
6. The risk of infection is very high with burn injuries. The skin that protects your body from germs is compromised and cannot shield you from germs.
When a motorcycle is involved in a crash with fire, injuries can be more widespread and dangerous. Motorcyclists have far less protection than car passengers. They are more susceptible to burns caused by hot liquids, hot motorcycle parts, and flame. When involved in this kind of crash the motorcyclist could sustain permanently damaging injuries.
What to do if You Are Involved in a Crash with Fire
If you are involved in a crash with fire, get away from the fire and far enough to be safe if there is an explosion of a crashed vehicle. If you are able, try to help others to escape vehicles. Call for police and fire. Give your statement to the police. Take pictures of the crash if you can. If you must wait for transportation to an emergency room or burn center, try to cover the burned area with a clean piece of fabric. Call us. Get medical treatment.
You Might Have the Right to File Suit
If you were not to blame for the crash and you are injured, you might have grounds to file a lawsuit against the person or company found liable for your injuries. If you are not at fault in any way, you might have reason to file a personal injury lawsuit to get justice and to demand full and fair financial compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If you or a loved one is injured in a crash that involves fire, call Altizer Law,,P.C., immediately. We will gather the information about the crash, assess your harms and losses, and consult with you about the feasibility of filing suit.