Third degree burns from liquids?

I was on my way to work this morning and the local DJ announced that a person was suing Burger King for spilling hot coffee, a la the infamous McDonalds lawsuit of the 1990’s.

He commented that this person was pouring her coffee from one cup to another when the lid came off, spilling over her lap and “causing third-degree burns”.

Now, I don’t want to start a flame war about the relative intelligence of the complainant. I’m not going there in this forum.

What I am wondering about is whether a hot liquid can cause third-degree burns. Recalling from my hazy, fog filled first-aid classes, I thought third-degree burns involved charring of the skin. How can a hot (even boiling) liquid do that?

Or is the DJ making things up?



Third-degree burnd don’t have to involve charring the skin - that’s just what you see when the burn is caused by flames. Third-degree burns are best defined as burns which extend through (and kill) the entire skin thickness. Prolonged skin contact with a boiling liquid can certainly cause that type of burn (if it couldn’t, you wouldn’t be able to use boiling as a method to cook meat).

From The Burn Resource Center:

I think it’s also worth noting that 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree burns aren’t as common terminology as they used to be (although they are still used).

My paramedic text now refers to them as:
1st degree= superficial burns
2nd degree= partial-thickness burns
3rd degree= full-thickness burns.

…and it seems to me that this woman who spilled the coffee, unless she was tied down, would have leaped up screaming ‘sonofabitch’ as her survival instinct kicked in. Third degree from this? Nah.

Sorry, ltfire, but that’s wrong. Scalding liquids can quickly cause a third degree burn, especially when the liquid is spilled on clothing, which holds the heat on the area. I’ve seen and treated far too many of such burns in my time.


You’re right, Doc. Sorry. I was reading into the equasion and assumming it spilled on uncovered skin only. I stand on the ‘sonofabitch’ part.

Hmm. Would being in a seatbelt qualify as being tied down?

<chemistry geek>

The OP is of course referring to aqueous liquids, that is, mixtures or solutions made up primarily of water.

Reading the question literally, however, the answer is easy. Many liquids can cause third-degree burns. Liquid [molten] iron comes to mind… :slight_smile:

</chemistry geek>

I have a frien whose brother was scalded with hot coffee on the chest. He was rolling on the floor and having difficulties breathing and still now have scars…

Sounds like 3rd degree to me…

Horrible, horrible TRUE story from Snopes.

A story to make your skin crawl . . . or slough off, to be exact. Ugh.

That is exactly what I thought. Though I was leaning more towards powerful acids, myself.

People, people!! Hot water can cause 3rd degree burns! This can happen at temperatures as low as 150 degrees!

Why do we have this argument every few months, where someone asserts quite vehemently that it’s not possible to get a serious burn from pure liquid water, no matter how hot. I’ve gone to great lengths to debunk that notion, only to see it rear its ignorant head again (the notion, not the OP).


Might as well linkk the MacDonald Case

Then on to the Burn center Link

My child suffered 3rd degree burns to his foot after putting it into a pot of near-boiling water. Twelve years later (now 14) his foot is still (and I presume will remain) a mass of scar-tissue.

I’m not arguin’ Qadgop.

What about extreme cold? If I sprayed Qadgop with a mist of liquid nitrogen, would his skin freeze and slough off? And would this count as a “burn”?

** kambuckta **
Try googling “scar Tissue remove burn”

Yes to both. In fact, liquid nitrogen is sometimes used by dermatologists to “burn off” superficial skin lesions.