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What to Do if You Have Suffered From Scarring or Disfigurement

On average, over 100 million patients acquire scars across the developed world each year. A variety of issues can cause these scars during a medical operation or surgery. There are 55 million elective operations and 25 million surgeries following trauma-related accidents. Some of these medical operations can cause considerable problems, which lead to scarring that can last forever.

Too often, traumatic injuries result in permanent injuries, such as scarring and disfigurement. Whether it is from a vehicle accident, heavy machinery accident, animal attack, burn, or amputation, visible scarring and disfigurement can be humiliating and, in some cases, can permanently change an individual’s life. It can deprive them of certain jobs and their overall quality of life, whether it be the loss of friends or potential romantic partners.

What is Scarring and Disfigurement?

Suffering any kind of injury can cause immediate, physical damage that can be detrimental, but not many people think of the lasting difficulties these traumatic injuries leave. Many patients who suffer injuries are left with permanent imperfections–scars and disfigurements– that present a physical reminder of their trauma and emotional harm. 

Scars

Scars are a natural part of the body’s healing process and are the result of the biological function of wound repair within the skin and neighboring tissues. Scars form when the dermis (a deep, thick layer of the skin) is damaged. Most scars, with the exception of minor ones, result in some level of scarring. 

Scars result from the skin being punctured due to an accident or surgical operation. They may occur after an injury from a vehicle accident, animal attack, or other severe accident; however, they can also arise from an utterly uneventful injury, such as a small scrape or cut. 

Scars can look thick and red, but most will fade and heal with time. Many factors influence the way a scar will eventually look, like the type, location, size, and seriousness of the injury, how the injury was treated, and genetic factors. There are three different types of scars, including:

  • Keloid Scars: These scars are most commonly the result of an overly aggressive healing process. They go beyond the original injury and, over time, can inhibit movement. Treatments for keloid scars can include surgery to remove the scar, steroid injections, or silicone sheets to flatten out the scar. Smaller keloids can be treated using a therapy that freezes the scar using liquid nitrogen, known as cryotherapy. To prevent keloids from forming, you can use pressure treatment or gel pads with silicone after you have been injured. Keloid scars are most common among individuals with darker skin.
  • Contracture Scars: A contracture scar usually forms after your skin has been burned. These scars will tighten the skin, hindering your ability to move. These scars also go deeper than the surface, sometimes affecting muscles and nerves. 
  • Hypertrophic Scars: These raised, red scars are most similar to keloids but do not go beyond the border of the injury. Treatments include steroid injections to reduce the inflammation of the scar or silicone sheet injections to flatten the scar.

A fully healed scar’s look can be enhanced by surgical procedures, dermabrasion, laser treatment, topical treatments, radiotherapy, microdermabrasion, microneedling, etc. However, a scar will never mirror the appearance of the skin before the injury happened. For many people, scars remind them of a painful time in their lives and can seriously change their quality of life if the scar is on a prominent part of the body such as the face, chest, or extremities.

Disfigurement

Disfigurement is the state of a person’s appearance that is intensely and persistently harmed medically by a birth defect, disease, or injury. For example, a burn, scar, skin texture, missing body limb, or an unusually-shaped body part can affect a person’s appearance. Disfigurement can lead to depression, negative body images, never-ending concerns about other people's reactions to their disfigurement, strains in one's professional, social, and sexual, and other issues.

Various accidents, including vehicle accidents, heavy machinery accidents, animal attacks, amputation, burns, etc., can all lead to a person’s disfigurement. Acts of violence, such as assault, can also lead to disfigurement. Along with the original injury that caused the disfigurement, which is already traumatic, the physical reminder of your trauma can lead to additional emotional and mental stresses that sometimes lead to depression or suicidal thoughts. 

Surgeries, such as plastic or reconstructive surgery, can often help a person reduce the look of the disfigurement. Although surgery can sometimes completely fix the disfigurement, that is not always the case. On top of the uncertainty of the success of these surgeries, they are expensive and, in many cases, extremely risky. Being able to recover financial compensation after an injury has occurred can go a long way towards fully and healthily recovering from that injury and any lasting physical difficulties that may go with it. 

Types of Accidents That Cause Scars & Disfigurement

Most accidents can lead to scarring of any part of the body. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Fires: Fires sometimes lead to burns, the most common type of fire-related injury. When the body is exposed to extreme heat, tissue damage occurs, leading to severe scarring and disfigurement. There are four degrees of severity used to identify burns:
    • First-degree: the mildest type of burn that only affects the top layer of the skin. Usually heals within a few days of the burn occurring.
    • Second-degree: this burn damages a deeper layer of skin. Usually, second-degree burns will blister the skin, are very painful, and can take up to a few weeks to heal.
    • Third-degree: third-degree burns damage all layers of the skin. Sometimes, these burns are not as painful due to the damage to underlying nerves. These burns will not heal without medical treatment and sometimes require surgery and skin grafts.
    • Fourth-degree: the worst type of burn a person can suffer. These burns functionally destroy each layer of skin, leading to muscle, bone, and nerve damage. They can be life-threatening and often require multiple surgeries, and in some cases, amputation.
  • Defective Products: When a defective product, like a defective vehicle, airplane, medical device, workplace product, etc., malfunctions, it can cause severe damage. These products can become faulty at any time and cause lacerations, loss of limbs, and other life-threatening injuries that can leave lasting scarring and disfigurement.
  • Explosions: The burns caused by explosions can be severe, causing long-term and sometimes life-threatening scarring and disfigurements. Explosions can also result in first, second, third, and fourth-degree burns. Some of the most common explosion burns are the result of:
    • Natural gas explosions
    • Improperly stored chemicals
    • Electronic cigarette explosions
    • Defective phone batteries
  • Medical Malpractice: When a victim endures an injury because of the negligence of a doctor or surgical error that could have been prevented, severe scarring and disfigurement can take place. Medical malpractice can lead to unnecessary limb loss, life-threatening injuries, and permanent (and unnecessary) scarring and disfigurement.
  • Falls: Falls from high surfaces, rough terrain, or dangerous conditions can be extremely harmful. They can cause severe puncture wounds or even the loss of a limb when an object pierces a victim after falling to a lower level. 
  • Animal attacks, including dog bites: Attacks from animals such as cats, dogs, snakes, horses, cows, and other pets, can lead to permanent scars from puncture wounds, scratches, and lacerations. 
  • Being hit by an object on someone else’s property: When an individual is on another person’s property, and there are no warning signs of possible dangers, they can become severely injured. When struck with a large or sharp object, the person can suffer minor to severe lacerations and puncture wounds leading to life-long scarring and disfigurement.
  • Being exposed to hazardous chemicals/toxins: When in close contact with skin, dangerous chemicals can cause severe burns as a result of their highly corrosive nature. These burns can be first, second, third, or fourth-degree burns and usually result in visible scarring and disfigurement.
  • Construction accidents: Construction accidents frequently happen and result in minor to severe injuries. Falling objects, falls from high surfaces, caught between accidents, fires, explosions, electrical accidents, and defective equipment are all accidents that can result in burns, lacerations, and limb loss. Burns can range from first-degree to fourth-degree, causing severe scarring and disfigurement. Lacerations and limb loss can cause serious scars and disfigurement as well.
  • Heavy machinery/equipment accidents: Heavy machinery and equipment accidents can be detrimental and sometimes fatal. Because of the size and weight of heavy machinery, it can result in limb loss or severe lacerations to the individual operating the machine or those within close distance to the machine. Oftentimes, heavy machinery and equipment injury victims are left with permanent scars and disfigurement.
  • Automobile Accidents (motorcycle, truck, car, etc.): Automobile accidents can cause serious lacerations and cuts from shattered glass and airbag explosions. Scars can result from the initial injury or result from the extensive healing process, such as surgery scars.

All of the accidents above can cause a victim physical damage as well as emotional damage. The majority of the injuries that these victims face will result in long-term care, such as multiple surgeries, continued therapy (both mental and physical), or a combination of both. 

Liability and Damages

Like various other personal injury lawsuits, a plaintiff trying to recover damages from scarring and disfigurement that were the result of an accident caused by someone else must establish four elements by a prevalence of the evidence:

  • Duty: A duty arises when it is legally acknowledged that a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff exists, requiring the defendant to act in a particular manner, usually with a standard of care, toward the plaintiff. A judge will determine whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and most likely will find that a duty does exist if a reasonable person would find that a duty exists in similar circumstances.
  • Breach of duty: It is not enough to only prove that another person owed you a duty. An injury lawyer must also be able to prove that the negligent party breached their duty to the plaintiff. A defendant has breached their duty if they fail to exercise reasonable care when performing the duty. Unlike the question of a duty existing, the issue of if a defendant breached a duty of care is decided by a jury. 
  • Causation: Causation requires that the plaintiff show that the defendant’s negligence was the only cause of their injury. There is no question that someone can act negligently; however, the plaintiff must show that negligence was the sole cause of the injury to recover damages. This element also looks at if the defendant could have reasonably foreseen that their actions would have caused an injury. If the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injury through an unexpected act of nature, the injury will most likely not be considered unforeseeable (meaning the defendant will not likely be found liable).
  • Damages: The final element is “damages.” This requires that the court be able to compensate the plaintiff for their injury, through economic and sometimes non-economic compensation.

Noneconomic and economic damages are available for scarring and disfigurement victims. The monetary portion of damages usually includes medical bills, loss of income, and future loss of income. 

Noneconomic damages are generally composed of pain and suffering and mental anguish. These damages will vary depending on what a juror believes is a natural reaction to the standard and location of the scarring or disfigurement that an individual has suffered.

The value of a scar or disfigurement will be different for everyone. Each insurance company and its adjusters will see the value of a victim's scar or disfigurement very different than the victim. However, some factors that are almost always considered when deciding what the value of a scar or disfigurement is, include:

  • The age of the injured victim
  • If the scar or disfigurement is permanent
  • The gender and marital status of the victim
  • Where the scar or disfigurement is located
  • The color, size, and visibility 

If you can prove that your scarring and disfigurement were the results of the negligence of another party, that party can most likely be held responsible for any damage you have already suffered and future corrective damages you may face. 

Scarring and Disfigurement Damages Allowed

If you are injured in a way that leads to permanent scarring and disfigurement because of another person’s carelessness, you most likely will be able to make a claim for your damages. You could possibly be entitled to:

  • Medical costs related to treatment. These costs can include bills from:
    • Doctors that have treated underlying problems
    • Plastic surgeons who performed reconstructive surgeries
    • Psychologists and psychiatrists who helped the victim with their emotional damage
  • Compensation for pain and suffering
  • Lost earnings from the days you were not able to work or from future loss of earnings

The monetary figure of the damage will depend on:

  • The body part that was affected
  • How deep, long, and severe the wound was
  • The change in the victim’s quality of life

Scarring and disfigurement can substantially change a person's life. The treatments they will need are costly, may need to be repeated, and could possibly not result in any improvement at all. Even with care from the best medical professionals, scarring and disfigurement victims can still suffer permanent, and embarrassing changes to their appearance. 

Sometimes a disfigured victim may need counseling/therapy for their emotional distress, mental anguish, and pain and suffering. Scarring and disfigurement are among the type of severe and permanent injuries that sometimes allow a vehicle accident victim to seek non-economic damages rather than solely economic damages through their own no-fault benefits. 

The settlement of a scar or disfigurement case will vary depending on the characteristics of the accident victim. For example, insurance companies and jurors typically treat young ladies with a facial scar differently than someone who suffers scarring on their abdomen. It is assumed that young women will undergo more significant stress due to their altered appearance. Furthermore, the face can be harder to treat because the tissues and muscles are more complicated in this part of the body. In addition, an accident victim whose career depends on her appearance, such as a model or actress, can most times recover a larger amount of noneconomic damages than a more unsociable, elderly, or male accident victim.

If you have suffered a scar or disfigurement, it is crucial to ensure that your doctor has documented it in your medical records and has specified whether there is a permanent or remaining effect. It is also crucial for your doctor to document if it has hindered your mobility in the affected area. These medical records will support your claim to the defendant’s insurance company or the jury for the compensation you are pursuing. The more documented proof you have against the negligent party, the better your chances are to collect the compensation you deserve.

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