Personal Injury Practice: Burn Injuries
By: U. Kelley Riedel, Attorney at Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new bill was introduced in the United States Senate last month by Senator John Kerry (D, Massachusetts) to help burn victims obtain Social Security disability victims quicker than ever before. The bill, titled “Social Security and Medicare Improved Burn Injury Treatment Act of 2009,” seeks to “amend the Social Security Act to eliminate the 5-month waiting period for Social Security disability and the 24-month waiting period for Medicare benefits in the cases of individuals with disabling burn injuries.”
The text of the bill indicates that Congress was prompted to introduce a bill to help burn victims get medical financial assistance more quickly because terrorist events such as the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. and terrorist attacks throughout the world, as well as major accidental events, chemical plant explosions, airplane crashes and major industrial accidents result in a substantial number of burn-injured patients.
Information obtained from the American Burn Association indicates that there are 128 burn centers in the United States with a capacity of 1,835 beds. In recent years, four burn centers in the United States have closed, thereby diminishing our country’s ability to properly care for mass burn injuries which could result from a major terrorist attack.
According to a 20-year study of over 54,000 burn patients conducted by the American Burn Association, up to 38% of patients being treated for burn injuries are uninsured, leaving the medical institutions financially vulnerable. Burn injuries are among the most costly to treat and require immediate medical attention. Because Congress recognizes that burn injury treatment is showing a “high level of uncompensated cared [which] threatens the survival of burn centers,” this bill is considered essential to preserving our country’s ability to treat individual burn injuries as well as those which are the result of a catastrophic incident.
In additional to this proposed bill, which Congress hopes to finalize, approve and send to President Obama for his signature, burn injury victims have other legal rights and avenues to help them on the long road to recovery. In addition to Social Security disability and medical treatment payments through Medicare, government benefits such as unemployment compensation may be available. If a burn injury occurs at work, the injured worker will be entitled to workers’ compensation, and may also be able to file a claim against a negligent third-party wrongdoers. If the burn injury occurred as a result of an auto accident, there may be automobile insurance available. And when burn injuries are caused by a defective product, a products liability claim may be available against the manufacturer and seller of the product. In circumstances of a serious burn injury, where the costs of medical care can are significant, it is important to protect your legal rights by exploring all avenues of recovery.
U. Kelley Riedel is a Partner with the law firm of Berman & Riedel, LLP, which has extensive experience in handling burn injury matters, as well as cases involving catastrophic personal injury, death caused by acts of another person, and nursing home abuse and neglect.