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When The Sun Strikes: Common Personal Injury Incidents In Hot Weather Environments

May 17, 2024 | Personal Injury

As summer descends on us here in Arizona, we are all likely aware of what exactly this means for the next few months as desert-dwellers. If you’ve only recently begun to call The Grand Canyon State home, we would be glad to fill you in:

  • In June, you can expect an average high of 106℉ 
  • In July, you can expect an average high of 108℉
  • In August, you can expect an average high of 106℉
  • In September, you can expect an average high of 100℉
  • UV index levels as high as 11 (considered extreme with a burn time of 10-15 minutes)

In 2023, there were 73 days with 100℉+ temperature and a record-breaking 31 days in a row with 110℉+ temperature. These numbers are only projected to increase as we move into summer 2024. 

Heat Effects & How To Protect Yourself

As you can see, summer in Arizona is nothing to joke about, and neither are the thousands of heat-related injuries and illnesses that put individuals at risk every year. In 2022, there were 359 heat-caused deaths and 671 heat-related deaths in the state. An additional 4,325 people were admitted to hospitals or emergency rooms due to illness caused by or related to severe heat.

The best ways to combat heat-related injuries and illnesses are to stay indoors when possible, limit your outdoor time, take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, use adequate amounts of sunscreen, and wear protective clothing. 

What If Heat Injuries Aren’t The Victim’s Fault?

Although someone may take all of these precautions, they could still suffer a heat-related injury if another party – such as their employer, a property owner, or an event organizer – does not have the proper safety protocols in place. Obviously, you can’t sue the sun. But particularly if an employer was responsible for a worker’s heat injury, they could be liable for compensation!

In this blog, we’ll shed light on common heat-related injuries and illnesses, as well as their causes, side-effects, and treatment. Then, we’ll help you understand your legal options when it comes to an injury caused by another party’s negligence or lack of safety measures. 

Heat-Related Injuries

Heat Cramps

This condition is categorized by painful, brief muscle cramps, in which the muscles spasm or jerk involuntarily. It is typically caused by an imbalance of electrolytes within the body; because sweat contains a large amount of sodium, the body begins to be affected when those electrolytes aren’t being properly restored. Though heat cramps tend to go away on their own with adequate recovery and hydration, a person may require medical attention if symptoms are prolonged. 

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a condition that occurs when the body overheats, and brings symptoms of heavy sweating, a rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, headache, and more. Without treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is much more serious. The average core temperature of a person’s body is 98.6℉, so when it can no longer cool itself, heat exhaustion begins to set in. 

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses and occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature and it rises rapidly. The sweating mechanism fails and the body is unable to cool down, so the internal temperature can rise to 106℉ or higher within 10-15 minutes. This condition can be fatal if not treated properly, so it’s crucial to pay attention to a person’s symptoms. They include:

  • Confusion
  • Altered mental state
  • Slurred speech
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • And more.

Dehydration

Most people are aware that dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluids than you take in, and your body does not have enough water and other fluids to carry out normal functions. Infants and children are the most vulnerable to dehydration, and may show such symptoms as sunken eyes/cheeks, listlessness/irritability, or if they have not had a wet diaper in 3 hours or longer. 

In adults, the condition shows itself by dark-colored urine, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, and extreme thirst. A severe case of dehydration could lead to all of the above heat-related injuries, as well as seizures and hypovolemic shock, so medical attention may be necessary on a case-by-case basis. 

Sunburn

While a mild sunburn may be uncomfortable, it is typically no cause for alarm. However, here in Arizona where the UV levels reach dangerous levels during the summer, a severe sunburn may require medical attention. Symptoms of a severe sunburn include changes in skin color (ranging from pink to red and even purple), pain and/or itching, swelling, and blistering. This can lead to sun poisoning, which brings added symptoms like headaches, nausea, dehydration, and fever. 

Legal Considerations & Liability

Though everyone should take accountability for their own health and safety as much as they can, heat-related injuries could lead to questions of liability, particularly when they occur in environments where individuals or entities have a duty of care toward others. This may apply to various parties such as property owners, employers, and event organizers. 

Property Owners

Negligence is a key legal concept in cases of heat-related injuries. Property owners, for example, have a legal obligation to maintain safe premises and provide warnings about known hazards, including those related to the extreme heat that occurs in Arizona. If they fail to do so, and someone suffers an injury as a result, they may be held liable under premises liability laws. 

Employers

Employers, especially, have a significant responsibility to protect their workers from heat-related injuries under both state and federal laws. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets forth guidelines to protect workers from occupational hazards like extreme heat. 

They recommend that employers should practice adequate prevention methods like a variety of engineering controls (such as increased ventilation, cooling/misting fans and reflective shields), modifications to work practices when heat stress is high (such as mandatory rest breaks, provision of water/electrolyte fluids, and access to first-aid), and provision of personal protective equipment (such as reflective clothing, cooling neck wraps, and insulated suits). 

Similarly, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) echoes the same standards under their state emphasis program (SEP) aimed at mitigating heat-related illnesses and injuries at both indoor and outdoor workplaces. 

What To Do If You Suspect Negligence

A negligent property owner or employer could be held liable for a heat-related injury or illness if they ignored their duty of care toward others. The best way to determine if you are entitled to compensation if you suffered a heat-related injury at your job or on another person’s property is to speak with a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney. 

Detailed documentation, including photographs, medical records, incident reports, and witness statements all serve as vital evidence in personal injury cases, so you must take care to gather those documents so your attorney can give you the most accurate assessment of your legal standing. 

Contact Ortega Law Group Today To Learn Your Options

It is your legal right to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering in certain cases where the negligent party showed malicious intent or a severe lack of their duty of care. Our dedicated lead attorney, Isaac Ortega, is committed to fighting for justice and holding the responsible party accountable for your losses. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can serve you!

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