There are several ways that an investigator might confirm suspicion that burns are intentionally inflicted, rather than accidental in nature. One factor in considering whether a burn is intentionally inflicted is the nature of the burn. A contact burn of irregular shape is typical of accidental contact with a hot item such as a pot on a stove or an iron. Burns of this nature are typically accidental. One way of determining if the burn is not is by examining its shape.
Burns that reflect the pattern of the object from which they obtained can often point to intentional burning. Symmetrical burns are less likely to be accidental. Chemical burns also should display a random pattern consistent with accidental contact. A burn pattern suggesting submersion in a corrosive or hot liquid of any body part is suspect, particularly if there are no corresponding splash-type wounds. Another determining factor is the location of the burn.
Contact burns that are truly accidental are nearly always situated on the extremities, as it is unlikely that a child would ignore the pain of extreme heat until contact is made with the torso, or head. While immersion burns from hot liquid can be on the torso, if accidental, they should be accompanied by splash patterns associated with the rapid withdrawal of the burned body part from the water. Most accidental burns on a child old enough to remove themselves from the source are no worse than second-degree.
Burns of greater degree are highly suggestive of a child being physically forced into contact with the burning agent. Unless the parent has a reasonable explanation for a more severe burn, these types of injuries should be regarded as highly suspicious. The key element in determining whether a burn was intentionally inflicted arrives with the interview of the admitting parent. Lies about burn sources are relatively easy to spot.
Burn characteristics such as location, severity, and pattern can easily indicate whether the parent is lying about the source of the burn. The questions that must be asked are: What caused the burn? How long was the child in contact with the source of the burn? What sort of supervision was offered while this occurred. There are only three scenarios possible in burn situations: pure accident, parental negligence, or intentional burning. It is up to the investigator to determine which situation applies in any given case.