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What Percentage of Burns Are Fatal: Burn Injury Studies on Mortality

What Percentage of Burns Are Fatal: Burn Injury Studies on Mortality


What Percentage of Burns Are Fatal: Burn Injury Studies on Mortality

Early treatment at a burn center can help prevent infections and other medical complications when an accident victim suffers burn injuries. Depending on the location of the burn and many other factors, a severe burn can lead to long-term disabilities and, in worse cases, death.

Ehline Law and our burn injury attorneys have worked with burn injury victims since 2005 to understand their needs, build a trial-ready burn injury case, and aggressively pursue the compensation they deserve. Here, we will go over the risk factors of burn injuries and at what point a burn injury can become fatal.

Types of Burns in the United States

After assessing data on burn admissions to burn centers in the United States between 2005 and 2014, the American Burn Association reports the following types of burn injuries most common in the country:

  • Fire/Flame burns – 43%
  • Scalding burns – 34%
  • Contact burns – 9%
  • Electrical burns – 4%
  • Chemical burns – 3%
  • Others – 7%.

What Percentage of Burns Are Fatal?

Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management (CHEMM) explains how burn injuries can be life-threatening, significantly impacting morbidity and mortality.

While there has been a decrease in the overall mortality rate for burn injuries in the United States due to advances in modern medical treatments, severe burns are still associated with a high risk of death.

According to the American Burn Association, the overall mortality rate for burn injuries in the United States is around 3% when studying burn admissions to Burn Centers between 2005 and 2014.

However, the burn mortality rate varies depending on the age, size of the burn, the overall health of the patient, the severity of the burn, and other factors.

CHEMM indicates the burn severity by using the metric Total Body Surface Area (TBSA) affected and notes that:

  • Burns that are less than 20% to 25% of the TBSA require IV fluid resuscitation, which replaces fluids to combat the hypovolemia and hypoperfusion that may result from the body’s systemic response to the injury.
  • Burns greater than 30% to 40% of the TBSA may be fatal to the burn injury victim if they don’t receive immediate medical treatment.

It’s worth noting that while the mortality rate for burns is an important metric, it doesn’t capture the full impact of burn injuries on survivors.

Burn injuries can cause significant physical and psychological trauma, and patients may require extensive skin grafting surgeries, other medical treatments, rehabilitation, and therapy to recover from their injuries and trauma.

Estimating TBSA Using the Rules of Nines

The Rule of Nines is a guideline used to estimate the percentage of body surface area burned and is essential in determining the severity of the burn and the appropriate treatment.

The Rule of Nines divides the body into regions that represent approximately 9% or multiples of 9% of the total body surface area. These regions include the head and neck (9%), each arm (9% each), the front and back of the torso (18% each), each leg (18% each), and genitalia (1%).

For children, the Rule of Nines requires medical professionals to adjust according to the child’s age.

Typically, the following are the guidelines for babies:

  • Head and neck – 21%
  • Arm – 10% each
  • Chest, stomach, and back – 13% front and 13% back
  • Buttocks and genitalia – 6%
  • Leg – 13.5% each.

Medical professionals add up the TBSA of the affected body parts to estimate the TBSA burned.

While the rule of nines can provide a useful estimate of the extent of a burn injury, it is essential to remember that it is just one tool. Medical professionals should not use it as the only tool to determine patient burn injury treatment.

When developing a treatment plan, medical professionals must consider the burn’s severity and the patient’s overall health.

If you or someone you love suffered burn injuries, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately to prevent any medical complications that may arise from the burns and start the healing process.

A Retrospective Study on Burn Injuries and Mortality

The 2015 study “Morbidity and Survival Probability in Burn Patients in Modern Burn Care” by Marc G. Jeschke et al., published in Critical Care Medicine journal, is a retrospective analysis of data from 573 burn patients treated at six major burn centers in North America. 226 patients out of the 573 were children. The study aimed to investigate cut-off burn size for mortality and infections, sepsis, and multiple organ failure.

The study divided the 573 patients into the following three groups: 0-15 (226 burn patients), 16-65 (324 burn patients), and >65 (23 burn patients). 

According to the findings of the studies, elderly patients had a greater Baux score (a system used to predict the chance of mortality due to burns) than children due to several factors, including their age. While children below the age of 16 had lower ICU days per percent burn compared to the other two groups.

Cardiac arrest was most common in elderly burn patients and adults than children, and the vascular events and abdominal compartment syndrome did not show any significant difference between all three groups.

The study findings also revealed that children under 16 had a greater risk of burn wound infections and lower incidence of pneumonia and sepsis compared to the other two groups, while the difference in the risk of nosocomial infections across all three groups remained insignificant.

Mortality rates remained higher for elderly patients compared to children below 16 for various reasons we will explore later.

The following are the cut-off burn sizes for mortality and morbidity across the two different groups:

  • 0-15
    • Mortality: 54%
    • Multiple organ failure: 58%
    • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: 57%
    • At least 2 Burn Wound Infections: 54%
    • Sepsis: 85%
    • Pneumonia: 64%
  • 16-65
    • Mortality: 44%
    • Multiple organ failure: 4.8%
    • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: 35%
    • At least 2 Burn Wound Infections: 43%
    • Sepsis: 48%
    • Pneumonia: 35%.

Since there were only 23 elderly patients in a large sample, the study excluded them from in-depth analysis but found that most elderly burn patients died within 60 to 70 days after the burn.

The study also identified several predictors of long-term outcomes in burn patients, including age, burn size, inhalation injury, and the need for mechanical ventilation.

According to the findings, older patients, patients with more extensive burns, patients with an inhalation injury, and patients who required mechanical ventilation had worse long-term outcomes regarding their functional status and quality of life.

Overall, the study provides important insights into the risk factors that influence morbidity and mortality in burn patients and highlights the importance of early and aggressive management of burn injuries, particularly in patients with large burns or inhalation injuries. 

The study also highlights the need for ongoing research to improve outcomes and quality of life for burn survivors.

When Are Burn Injuries Potentially Fatal?

Several studies published in J Burn Care Res and other journals evaluate the data of burn patients across multiple burn centers in the United States to determine when burn injuries can be potentially fatal.

Some factors that increase mortality risk across these studies include the following.

Size of the Burn

Burn size is one of the most critical factors in determining the severity of the injury, and burns that cover a large portion of the body is more likely to be fatal than smaller burns. 

A 2018 study titled “Analysis of factors associated with mortality in major burn patients,” published in the Turkish Journal of Surgery found that the mortality rate among patients with TBSA greater than 30% was 44.2%.

Depth of the Burn

Deeper burns are more severe and can damage multiple skin, muscle, and bone layers, causing significant pain, shock, and fluid loss.

Immediate medical treatment, including IV fluid resuscitation, is necessary to prevent further damage or burn wound infection; otherwise, deep burns can be fatal.

Location of the Burn

Burns on the face or lower extremities can be fatal compared to burns on other body parts. A 2015 study titled “Effect of Burn Sites (Upper and Lower Body Parts) and Gender on Extensive Burns’ Mortality,” published in the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, revealed that patients suffering from burn injuries in their lower extremities are more likely to develop edema and deep vein thrombosis, leading to medical complications and long-term disabilities. Developing deep vein thrombosis is also a major cause of death in burn patients.

Age and Overall Health

Older adults and people with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory problems, are at a higher risk of complications from burn injuries, which can be fatal.

Inhalation Injury

Burns to the respiratory tract from inhaling hot air or smoke can be life-threatening and lead to respiratory failure. The findings of a 2021 study titled “Factors affecting mortality in burns: a single center study” published in International Surgery Journal revealed a mortality rate as high as 83.7% for patients suffering from inhalation injuries.

If you or someone you love suffers burn injuries, seeking medical attention immediately at a burn center is crucial. Severe burn injuries can be successfully treated promptly and appropriately, reducing the risk of complications and fatalities.

Should a Burn Injury Victim Pursue Compensation?

A burn injury seriously threatens the victim’s quality of life, and severely burned patients may require extensive medical treatments, rehabilitation, and therapy to help recover and overcome the trauma.

The healing process can take weeks, months, or even years. In some cases, victims may not completely recover from their wounds, so it is crucial to pursue a burn injury claim against the negligent party’s insurance company.

How Can a Burn Injury Attorney Help a Burn Victim?

A severe burn injury can be devastating, and the recovery process can be lengthy and costly. It is essential for a burn injury victim to reach out to an experienced burn injury attorney to discuss their case.

An experienced burn injury attorney can help the burn injury victim in many ways, including the following.

Investigate the Accident

A burn injury attorney can help investigate the cause of the burn injury and determine if any party is liable for the injuries. This may involve reviewing police reports and witness statements to identify the parties responsible for the accident.

Pursuing Legal Action

When an attorney identifies the liable parties, they gather relevant evidence to build a strong case and pursue a claim against the negligent party’s insurance company.

A burn injury attorney can advocate for the victim throughout the legal process, protecting their rights and fighting for fair compensation for their injuries.

Negotiating Fair Compensation

A major headache when pursuing legal action is handling the insurance company and its dirty tactics.

An experienced burn injury attorney can help evaluate the damages (medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from the burn injury) and negotiate a fair settlement on the victim’s behalf.

If the attorney does not agree over a fair settlement, a burn injury attorney can consider going to trial to get the victim the compensation they deserve for the threat a burn injury poses to their overall body surface. Whether it is thermal injuries, a chemical injury and associated injuries, or a wrongful death, health care providers are not cheap. Respiratory compromise from first degree burn to the lungs will require total burn care and potential supportive care for life.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law Fatal Burn Wound Experts

Did you have pre existing medical disorders made worse by a bad burn or heat injury? Massive burns can lead to massive familiar problems, including divorce, bankruptcy and even suicide. If you’ve suffered burn injuries due to another’s negligence or intentional acts, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be able to seek compensation and get treated by a proper, specialized burn center for deep partial thickness and even superficial burns.


  • World Health Organization
  • National Burn Repository

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.