When electricity passes through a resistant material such as the human body, energy is given off in the form of heat. This is the cause of electrical burns. The extent of the injury depends on the size of the current, the pathway (i.e. head to toe, hand to hand, etc.), and the length of exposure.
Strength of Current
The strength of a shock it takes to severely injure or kill someone varies greatly on the situation and on previous heart conditions. A shock as low as 50 volts has killed people by causing heart arryhythmias or heart attacks. However, people have survived shocks greater than 100,000 volts (lightning).
The Pathway of the Current
Much of the severity of the injury depends on the path of the current through the body. If the current passes through the brain, heart, or other vital organs, severe injury or death may occur. The most current passes through these vital areas when it travels parallel to the body (head to toe); much less passes through these areas when it goes perpendicular (hand to hand).
There are three main types of these injury:
True electrical burns result from direct contact with an electric source where the current flows from the source, through the body, and to the ground. This type exhibits characteristic entry and exit points, with the exit wound typically being larger than the entry.
Arc burns result when current jump from its source to the ground, but a body between the potential difference of the two points, and thus electricity passes through. An example of this type is one caused by high-tension power lines. Instead of just one entry and exit wound, there may be many points of injury.
Thermal injuries result when the arc or sparks ignite clothing or other objects that then come in direct contact with the body.
Besides directly burning tissue and physically damaging organs, there are other effects. High voltage can cause intense muscle contractions that frequently fracture or dislocate bones. Particularly common effects of these injuries are heart dysfunctions, which occur in around 1/3 of patients with these injuries. Current through the heart disrupts the normal electric-driven beat of the heart, causing right-bundle branch block, tachycardia (speeding up of the heart beat), or arrhythmias. These injuries are also known to cause cataract formation, neurological damage and kidney failure.
The following are possible underlying causes of kidney failure:
Hypovolemia. The most common cause of kidney failure in burn patients is hypovolemia (decrease in blood volume) secondary to extravascular fluid loss (loss of fluid found outside of the blood vessels). Burns affecting more than 20% of the total body surface area can induce decreased renal blood flow.
Sepsis. The greatest risk is infection. When your immune system overreacts to the infection, it can trigger widespread inflammation and blood clotting in tiny vessels throughout the body. This inflammation and clotting can cause multi-organ dysfunction. If the kidneys are inflamed due to sepsis, the patient may experience kidney failure.
Compensation for Victims of Electrical Burns
To get compensation, your lawyer must prove that the following elements:
Someone had a duty of care
That person breached that duty of care
The breach of that duty caused injury.
If the above elements of the case can be proved, then the only remaining issue is the amount of money the victim should recover. Generally, the amount recoverable includes past and future medical expenses, past and future loss of earnings, past and future pain and suffering (which includes disfigurement and emotional distress) and other damages.
In severe cases, pain and suffering is unquestionably horrendous, so the compensation for pain and suffering is often high.