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Is Smoke Inhalation From a Fire Considered a Burn Injury?


It is true that fires can cause many types of burn injuries, including burning of the airways due to the inhalation of hot smoke. However, depending on the circumstances of the case, smoke inhalation may or may not be considered a burn injury. With that said, victims who have inhaled smoke in a structure fire do have personal injury legal options. This is because inhaling smoke is dangerous and in many situations can be deadly.

Current estimates reveal that approximately 70% of deaths due to fires occur because of inhaling smoke instead of incurring burn injuries. This is because smoke contains many different harmful substances, gases, and heated particles. Researchers say that it is impossible to know exactly what the smoke produced by fire may contain.

Inhaling smoke can damage the body in several different ways. Examples include damage due to simple asphyxiation, thermal or chemical irritation, asphyxiation caused by chemicals, or any combination of these.

  • Simple asphyxiation occurs when the fire consumes all of the available oxygen or when products of the fire take over the oxygen’s space.
  • Chemical asphyxiation occurs when components of smoke like carbon dioxide cause damage at the cellular level and interfere with the victim’s ability to use oxygen.
  • Chemical irritation happens when the substances in smoke damage the victim’s skin or mucous membranes and cause airway collapse, swelling, and respiratory distress.
  • Thermal irritation occurs when the victim inhales very hot smoke, causing injury to the airway.

A Clearer View of Smoke Inhalation

The damage that smoke, heat, fumes, and gases do to the inside of the body may be less apparent, but it can be more debilitating to the victim in the long run, causing chronic health issues for the rest of a person’s life. Treatment and care can be costly and if someone’s negligence led to the exposure, legal accountability may be called for.

It should come as no surprise that firefighters face the most persistent exposure to smoke. It’s at nearly every event they respond to, yet line-of-duty injuries due to smoke are relatively rare for them. Most experts would likely agree that civilians are more at risk because they lack firefighter training and access to safety gear. Civilians also tend to be on the front line of the worst exposure from fires – whether it is smoke, gas, or chemicals.

Another factor that many might not think about is that what fuels fires today is significantly different from what it was just 50 years ago. Natural materials commonly used in construction and the making of furniture have been replaced with fabricated products that emit more toxicity when burned.

It is in light of these realities that medical services experts recommend that all smoke inhalation victims be checked for three particular issues:

  • Heat burns to the airways
  • Chemical damage to the windpipe and tubes to the lungs
  • Systemic poisoning from carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide

Regardless of how the exposure occurred, it’s clear that smoke inhalation can have catastrophic and life-changing consequences for victims, for which they may be entitled to compensation. While smoke inhalation may not seem like a burn injury, it is still very dangerous and could be fatal. Like victims of burns, those who have been injured due to smoke inhalation caused by a negligent party can pursue compensation through the legal system by speaking with our attorneys at Greene Broillet & Wheeler. 

Source: WebMD, “Smoke Inhalation,” accessed Aug. 10, 2016