Written by Dr. D. Rao

A wound or injury is defined as disolution of the natural continuity of any of the tissues of the living body. Mechanical injuries are injuries caused to the body by physical violence.

Mechanism of Wounding:

The body absorbs the natural forces, like gravity ,movement, routine movements like sitting and walking by the resilience and elasticity of its soft tissues and rigid skeletal framework. wound is  due to the result forces which cross the limits of elasticity or resistance. The following are the factors which influence the wounding mechanism:

  1. The amount of force applied which depends on Mass of the Object and Square root of the velocity with which it is applied i.e. Force=1/2 M.V.2.
    Eg. When a cricket ball(200gm) is  pressed on the head it causes no damage however if the impact is at minimum velocity of 10m/sec it may end up in fracture. Hence apart from the mass the Velocity is the factor which plays the major role.
  2. The transfer of the force through the body again a factor which contributes to the wounding power. If the wounding object pass through and through(eg. Perforating Bullet) the amount of damage is less as compared to a wounding object lodging inside the body(Explosive bullet).
  3. The distribution of Force over the Surface of the body is another factor, larger the area of distribution lesser the damage smaller the area of distribution more the damage(eg.pointed  knife cause more damage than blunt weapon with equal amount of force).
  4. The force acting on the surface of the body subjects the tissue to traction, shear and compression, hence the resultant damage depends not only on the type of the mechanical insult but also on the nature of the target tissue i.e Muscle,bone,hallow organ like intestine .etc.
  5. Another very important factor is the movement of the body in the direction of the Force which adds up to the wounding. If the movement is towards the direction of the force the damage is least if against the direction of the force the damge is Catching a cricket ball and moving the hands in the direction of the force will cause least damage than the contrary movment of the hand.


Mechanical Injuries:

  1. Abrasions
  2. Contusions
  3. Lacerations
  4. Incised wounds
  5. Stab wounds
  6. Firearm wounds.
  7. Fractures and dislocation.
(II) Thermal Injuries :
  1. (1) Due to cold;
    (a) Frostbite, (b) Trench foot, (c) Immersion foot.
  2. (2) Due to heat;
    (a) Burns, (b) Scalds.

(III) Chemical Injuries:

1) Corrosive acids, (2) Corrosive alkalis. (IV) Injuries due to electricity, lightning, X-rays, radioactive substances, etc.

Legally, injuries are classified into; (1) Simple, and (2) Grievous.

  • Self inflicted Injuries.
  • Defense Injuries.
  • Offensive Injuries.
  • Unintentional Injuries.
  • Fatal and NonFatal Injuries.

Mechanical Injuries

Mechanical Injuries are Caused due to application of Mechanical force on any part of the body, like Blunt Force,Sharp Force and Firearms.


An abrasion is a destruction of the skin which usually involves the superficial layers of the epidermis only. They are caused by a blow, a fall on a rough surface, by being  dragged in a vehicular accident, finger-nails, thorns or teeth bite. Some movement and pressure by the agent on the surface of the skin is essential. The size varies depending on the extent of the body surface exposed to the abrading force. When they heal there is no permanent scar.


  1. Scratches: They are caused by a sharp object passing across the skin, such as, finger-nails, pin or thorn. There is heaping up of surface layers of the skin in front of the object, which leaves a clean area at the start and tags at the end. Finger nails produce a curved scratch, wide at the start and narrow at the end. A thorn or pin produces a narrow scratch which tails off.
  2. Grazes: They occur when there is movement between the skin and some rough surface in contact with it. They show longitudinal parallel lines with the epithelium heaped up at the ends of these lines, which indicate the direction in which the force was applied. The groove may be broad at one end and tail away in the opposite direction. They are the most common type and seen in road accidents. In open wounds, direct or grit are usually present.
  3. Pressure Abrasions: They are caused by a crushing of the superficial layers of the skin, and are associated with a bruise of the surrounding area. In this, the movement is slight and largely directed inwards, e.g. ligature mark in cases of hanging an strangulation, and the teeth bite marks.
  4. Impact Abrasions: They are caused b impact with a rough object, such as, when a person is knocked down by a motorcar. In such cases the pattern of radiator grill or tread of the tyre may be seen on the skin. Impact abrasions and pressure abrasions reproduce the object causing it and are called patterned abrasions.

On drying, abrasions become dark brown or even black.

AGE Fresh Bright red.
  12 to 24 hours: Lymph and blood dries up producing bright red scab
  2 to 3 days: Reddish brown scab
  4 to 7 days: Epithelium covers the defect under the scab
  After 7 days: Scab dries, shrinks and falls off.

Ante-mortem abrasions: are seen anywhere on the body, reddish brown in colour, scab is slightly raised and vital reaction is seen. Post-mortem abrasions are usually seen over bony prominences, are yellowish and translucent, the scab is slightly depressed and there is no vital reaction.

Abrasions are usually seen in accidents and assaults. Suicidal abrasions are rare. Abrasions have to be differentiated from: (1) Erosion of skin produced by ants. (2) Excoriations of the skin by excreta. (3) Pressure sores.

Medico-legal Importance:

  1. They Indicates site of impact and direction of the force.
  2. They may be the only external signs of a serious internal injury.
  3. Patterned abrasions are helpful in connecting the crime with the object which produced them.
  4. The age of the injury can be known.
  5. In open wounds dirt, dust, grease or grit are usually present, which may connect the injuries to the scene of crime.
  6. Manner of injury may be known from its distribution: (a) In throttling, curved abrasions due to finger-nails are found on the neck. (b) In smothering, abrasions may be seen around the mouth and nose. (c) In sexual assaults, abrasions may be found on the breasts, genitals, inside of the thighs and around the anus. (d) Abrasions on the face or body of the assailant indicate a struggle.



A contusion or bruise is an effusion of blood into the tissues, due to rupture of subcutaneous vessels, usually capillaries. They are caused by blunt force, such as, fist, stone, stick, whip, boot, etc. Usually there is no loss of continuity of skin but they may be associated with abrasions or lacerations. When a large blood vessel is injured a tumour-like mass called haematoma is formed. A fresh bruise is usually tender and slightly raised above the surface of the skin. The size varies from small pin head to large collections of blood in the tissues.

Patterned Bruising: A bruise is usually round but it may indicate the nature of the weapon used. A blow from a hammer or the closed fist usually produce a round bruise. Bruise made by the end of a thick stick may be round, but if any length of the stick hits the body they are enlarged and irregular. A blow with a rod, a stick or a whip produces two parallel linear haemorrhages. The intervening skin is unchanged. In bruise produced by a long rigid weapon, e.g. stick, the edges of the bruise may be irregular and the width may be greater due to the infiltration of blood in the surrounding tissues along the edges of the bruise. Bruises caused by blows from whips are elongated, curve over prominences, and may partially encircle a limb or the body and are seen as two parallel lines. Bruises from straps, belts or chains leave a definite imprint. Patterned bruising is also seen in motorcar accidents.

Appearance of Bruises: A superficial bruise appears at one as a dark red discolouration. A deep bruise may take several hours to one or two days t o appear. Therefore, a second examination should be carried out two days later.

AGE At first Red
  Few hours to 3 days: Blue
  4th day: Bluish black to brown
  5 to 6 days Greenish
  7 to 12 days Yellow
  2 weeks Normal

In ante-mortem bruising there is swelling, damage to epithelium, extravasations, coagulation and infiltration of the tissues with blood and colour changes. These signs are absent in post-mortem bruises.

Proof of Bruising: Contusions in the subcutaneous tissues may be detected by parallel incisions through the skin. Deep bruises are detected by deep incisions made into the muscles. Contusions of the scalp can be detected by reflecting the scalp and making incisions from the aponeurotic surface. When in doubt, a portion must be taken for microscopy.

Medico-legal Importance: A bruise is a simple injury, but the contusion of the heart may cause death. multiple contusions may cause death from shock and internal haemorrhage. A contusion may contain 20 to 30 ml. of blood or more.

  1. Patterned bruises may connect the Victim and the object or weapon.
  2. The age of the injury can be determined.
  3. The degree of violence may be determined from their extent.
  4. In the case of a fall, sand, dust or mud may be found on the body.
  5. The manner of injury may be known from its distribution (similar to abrasions).

Bruises are usually seen in accidents and assaults. Self-inflicted bruises are rare as they are painful.

Artificial Bruises: Some irritant substances, e.g. juice of marking nut or calotropis, when applied to skin produce injuries, which stimulate bruises. They are seen on exposed accessible parts of the body, colour is dark brown, shape is irregular, margins are well defined and regular and are covered with small vesicles, ecchymosis is absent, contain acrid serum, itching is present, and vesicles may be found on finger tips and on other parts of the body due to scratching.


A laceration is a wound in which the tissues are torn due to blunt force to the body. They are also called tears or ruptures.

  1. Split Lacerations: Splitting occurs by crushing of the skin between two hard objects. Blunt force on areas where the skin is closely applied to bone, and the subcutaneous tissues are scanty, may produce a wound which looks like an incised wound and is called incised-like or incised-looking wound. The sites are scalp, eyebrows, cheekbones, lower jaw, iliac crest, perineum and skin.
  2. Stretch Lacerations: Overstretching of the skin, if it is fixed, will cause laceration. There is localized pressure with pull which increases until tearing occurs and produces the “Flap”. It is seen in running over by a motor vehicle and in fractures.
  3. Avulsions: Grinding compression by a weight such as lorry wheel passing over a limb or trunk may produce separation of the skin from the underlying tissues (avulsion) and crush the underlying muscles.
  4. Tears: Tearing of the skin and tissues can occur from impact by or against irregular or sharp objects, such as, door handle of a car.
  1. Margins are irregular, ragged and uneven and their extremities are pointed or blunt.
  2. Bruising is seen either in the skin or the subcutaneous tissues around the wound.
  3. Deeper tissues are unevenly divided with tags of tissue at the bottom of the wound bridging across the margin.
  4. Hair bulbs are crushed.
  5. Haemorrhage is less because the arteries are crushed and torn across irregularly.
  6. Foreign matter may be found in the wound.
  7. Depth varies according to the thickness of the soft parts and the degree of force applied.
  8. A laceration is usually curved.
  9. The skin on side of wound opposite to direction of force is usually torn free or undermined.

Ante-mortem lacerations show bruising of margins, eversion and gaping of the margins and vital reaction. Lacerations are usually seen in accidents and assaults. Suicidal lacerations are very rare, as they are painful.

Medico-legal Importance:
  1. The type of laceration may indicate the cause of the injury or the shape of the blunt weapon.
  2. Foreign bodies found in the wound may indicate the circumstances in which crime has been committed.
  3. The age of the injury can be determined.



An incised wound(Cut, Slash, Slice) is a clean cut through the tissues, which is longer than it is deep. It is produced by the pressure and friction against the tissue by an object having a sharp cutting edge, e.g., knife, razor, scalpel, etc.

(1) The edges are clean cut, well defined and usually everted and free from contusions.

(2) The width is greater than the edge of the weapon causing it due to retraction of the tissues.

  1. The length is greater than its width and depth and has no relation to the cutting edge of the weapon.
  2. It is usually spindle shaped due to greater retraction of the edges in the centre.
  3. Haemorrhage is more as the vessels are cut cleanly.
  4. It is deeper at the beginning because of greatest pressure.This is known as head of the wound. Towards the end of the cut the wound becomes increasingly shallow, and finally the skin alone is cut. This is known as tailing of the wound.
  5. If the blade of weapon enters obliquely, one edge is beveled at the expense of the other; if the blade is nearly horizontal, a flap wound is caused.

AGE Fresh Haematoma formation.
  12 hours The edges are red, swollen and adherent with blood and lymph;

leucocytic infiltration.

  24 hours A scab of dried clot is seen on the wound; vascular buds begin to form
  36 hours The capillary network is complete; mitotic activity in the       basal cells
  2 to 3 days The wound is filled with fibroblasts and capillary buds grow in

from the cut surfaces

  3 to 5 days Definite fibrils are seen; vessels show thickening and obliteration
  1 to 2 weeks Scar is formed

Medico-legal Importance:

(1)  They indicate the nature of weapon.

(2)  They give an idea bout the site of impact and direction of the force.

(3)  The age of the injury can be determined.

(4)  Position and character of wounds may indicate mode of production, i.e. suicide, accident or homicide.

Chop Wounds: They are wounds caused by a blow with the sharp cutting edge of a fairly heavy instrument like an axe, butcher’s knife, and etc. The dimensions of the wound correspond to cross-section of penetrating blade. The margins are sharp and may show slight abrasion and bruising with marked destruction of underlying organs. Usually the heel of the axe strikes the surface first which produces a deeper wound than the toe wound. The deeper end indicates the position of the assailant. If the extremities are attacked there may be complete or incomplete amputation of the fingers or other parts. Most of these injuries are homicidal.


Stab or punctured wound is caused by sharp pointed objects, such as, knife, dagger, nail, needle, spear, arrow, screw driver, etc. Penetrating the skin and underlying tissues, i.e., deeper than its length on the skin. They are called penetrating wounds when they enter a cavity of body. When the weapon enters the body on one side and comes out on the other side, perforating or through and through punctured wounds are produced. The wound of entry is larger with inverted edges and the wound of exit is smaller with everted edges, due to tapering of blades.


(1)  The length of the wound is slightly less than the width of the weapon because of stretching of the skin.

(2)  The depth is greater than the dimension of the external injury.

(3)  The edge of the wound are clean cut.

(4)  Shape: (a) If a wound will be triangular or wedge shaped, (b) If a double-edged weapon is used, the wound will be elliptical. (c) A round object like the spear may produce a circular wound. (d) A round blunt pointed object may produce a circular wound with ragged and bruised edges. (e) A pointed square weapon may produce a cruciform injury.

(5)  The direction is indicated by an undercutting of the external wound, and by the track of injury by the blade. The principal direction should be noted first and the others next.

Complications: (1) External haemorrhage is slight but there may be marked internal haemorrhage or injuries to internal organs. (2) Infection. (3) Air Embolism.

Concealed pnctured wounds: These are punctured wounds caused on concealed parts of the body, such as, axilla, vagina, rectum nostrils, fontanelle, fornix of the upper eye lids, and nape of the neck. Fatal injuries can be caused without leaving any external marks.

Medico-legal Importance:

(1)  The shape of the wound may indicate the class and type of weapon.

(2)  The depth of the wound will indicate the force of penetration,

(3)  Direction and dimension of the wound indicate the relative positions of the assailant and the victim.

(4)  The age of the injury can be determined.

(5)  Position, number and direction of wounds may indicate mode of production i.e. suicide, accident or homicide.

(6)  If a broken fragment of weapon is found it will identify the weapon.

Stab wounds are mostly suicidal or homicidal.

Accidental wounds are rare.



(1) Accidental Wounds: They are caused by (i) Fall upon a sharp edged object. (ii) Impact by sharp objects, e.g., glass pieces. (iii) Unintentional cut or stab by sharp edged or pointed instrument, e.g., knife, razor blade, house-hold utensil, etc.

(2) Suicidal wounds:

  1. They are multiple and parallel, and superficial in any one area.
  2. They are present in several limited accessible areas of the body, such as neck, wrists, groin and rarely on backs of legs or on chest.
  3. Hesitation marks or tentative cuts are multiple, small and superficial, often involving only the skin and are seen at the commencement of the incised wound.
  4. When a safety razor blade is used unintentional cuts are found on the fingers where the blade has been gripped.
  5. More than one method may be used for suicide.
  6. In right handed persons, the most severe wounds are often found on the left side of the body.

Suicidal cut-throat wounds are usually seen above the thyroid cartilage, the direction is from left to right, the edges are ragged due to overlapping of multiple superficial wounds, hesitation cuts are present, tailing is present, they are multiple upto 20 to 30, superficial and parallel wounds may be seen on other parts of the body,, the clothes are not cut and circumstantial evidence may be helpful.

(3) Homicidal wounds:

  1. Multiple gaping wounds on any part of the body including back.

(ii) Defence wounds may be found.

  1. Hesitation wounds are absent.
  2. Mutilation of the body, particularly the breasts and genitals, indicate sexual murder.

Post-Mortem Wounds: (a) Intentional mutilation: (i) Sex crimes. (ii) Sadistic murders. (iii) Attempted concealment of  body by dismemberment. (b) Unintentional mutilation.

FRACTURES: Fractures may be caused by direct or indirect violence.



  1. Fissured fractures: These are linear fractures or cracks in the bone involving the whole thickness of the bone or one or other table only. They are caused by forcible contact with a broad resisting surface like the ground, blows with an agent having a relatively broad striking surface or from a fall on the feet or buttocks. The fracture starts at the point of impact and runs parallel to the direction of the force. If the head is supported when struck, the fracture ma start at the counter pressure, e.g. in bilateral compression the fracture often starts at the vertex or more commonly at the base. The fracture line tends to follow a devious course and is usually no more than hair’s breadth.
  2. Depressed fractures: In this portions of fractured bone are driven inwards into the skull cavity. Their pattern often resembles the weapon or agent which caused it. They are caused by blows from heavy weapons with a small striking surface, e.g., stones, sticks, axe, hammer, etc.
  3. Comminuted fractures: In this the bone is broken into several pieces. They are caused by fall from a height, vehicle accidents and from blows by weapons with a large striking surface, e.g. heavy iron bar, axe, thick stick, etc. Fissured fractures may radiate for varying distances from the area of comminution.
  4. Pond or Indented fractures: This is a simple inbuckling of the skull, which results from the obstetric forceps blade, a blow from a blunt object or forcible impact against some protruding object.
  5. Gutter fractures: They are caused when part of the thickness of the bone is removed so as to from a gutter, e.g. glancing bullet wounds. They are usually accompanied by irregular depressed fractures to the inner table of the skull.
  6. Ring or Foramen fractures: It is fissured fracture which encircles the skull in such a manner that the anterior third is separated at its junction with the middle and posterior thirds. But, usually the term is applied to a fracture, which runs at about 3 to 5 cm. outside the foramen magnum at the back and sides of the skull and passes forwards through the middle ears and roof of the nose, due to which the skull is separated from the spine. They are rare and occur after falls from a height into the feet or buttocks. This drives the vertebral column into the skull.
  7. Perforating fractures: These are caused by firearms and pointed sharp weapons like daggers or knives and axe. The weapon passes through both tables of the skull leaving more or less a clean cut opening.
  8. Diastic or sutural fractures: separation of the sutures occur only in young person due to a blow on head with blunt instrument.

Fracture of the skull occurring opposite to the site of force is known as conrte-coup fracture. This usually occurs when the head is not supported.

Brain injury:

Contre-coup lesions: Coup means that the injury is located under the area of impact and results directly by the impacting force. Contre-coup means that the lesion is present in an area opposite the side of impact. Contre-coup injuries are more extensive.

Cerebral Contusions: They may occur without apparent injury to the skull, but often there is a fracture of the skull. They may be found on any part of the brain, and may appear as a series of small punctate haemorrhages aggregated in bunches, or as a definite haemorrhage into the cortex. The commonest site is the outer surface of parietal and temporal lobes or deep in the brain substance. In falls, when moving head brain substance. In falls, when moving head strikes a fixed object, cerebral contusions will be contre-coup and more severe. If the fixed head is struck by a moving object, i.e. a blow, coup injuries are common.

Concussion of the Brain: Concussion is a state of temporary unconsciousness due to violence applied to the skull, comes on immediately after injury and tends to spontaneous recovery. The unconsciousness may be momentary or may last for an hour and is usually followed by retrograde amnesia. The patient has no recollection of accident on injury, although he can usually recall events upto or within a few minutes of the occurrence. A posttraumatic amnesia often extends well beyond the period of consciousness. Autopsy may not show any change but in some cases, petechial haemorrhages may be found in the cortex, in the roof of fourth ventricle and under the pia matter of the upper segments of the cervical cord.


  1. Extra-dural haemorrhage: It is caused almost exclusively due ot trauma. The vessel injured depends upon the site of trauma. Commonly the middle meningeal artery near the foramen magnum or anterior meningeal artery near the cirbriform plate are injured, or anterior ethmoidal artery or transverse, sagittal sinus or diploic veins  may be injured. These haemorrahge are common in adults between 20 to 40 years. In most cases the skull is fractured and the haemorrhage is directly under the fracture.

In a typical case there is a history of head injury, which causes bleeding and temporary unconsciousness. This is followed by a period of normal consciousness (lucid interval) of one or more hours duration. As the pressure on the brain increases, the patient first becomes confused and later coma occurs.

  1. Subdural haemorrhage: It may occur from relatively slight trauma, often insufficient to cause unconsciousness, and usually not producing fractures of the skull. It is frequently seen on the opposite side of impact to the head. Rarely they are found over both hemispheres. It is almost always produced by trauma. Fatal faemorrhages are usually associated with contusions or lacerations of the brain and fractures o the skull.
  2. Sub-arachnoid haemorrhage: This is the most common form of traumatic intracranial haemorrhage. In all cases of significant brain injury, some degree of subarachnoid haemorrhage is found. It is also produced spontaneously due to rupture of berry aneurysm.
  3. Intra-cerebral haemorrhage: This may be found on the surface or in the substance of the brain. Haemorrhage into the brain due to trauma usually occurs near the surface.  A single deep-seated haemorrhage is usually due to some disease.

Age of effusion of Blood: Recent effusion is bright red which becomes chocolate or brown after some days and pale brownish yellow in 12 to 25 days. As the time progresses the coagulum becomes firmer and laminated.

Amnesia following head injuries: It is quite common and is usually associated with concussion. The memory of distant events tends to return before the memory of more recent events. Permanent retrograde amnesia may vary from a period of seconds upto 7 days. In cases recovering from concussion, events which occurred just before the injury are sometimes remembered indistinctly during the period of confusion, but there will be complete amnesia for these events after the return of complete consciousness. As such, the patient may make false accusations. Retrograde amnesia may also occur in injuries in which there is no loss of consciousness.

Post-traumatic Automatism: After an accident the patient may speak and act in purposive manner, but does not remember them afterwards.


  1. Immediate Causes:
    1. (1) Haemorrhage,
    2.  (2) Shock,
    3. (3) Reflex vagal inhibition.
    4. (4) Mechanical injury to a vital organ.

  1. Remote causes:
    1. Infection.
    2. Gangrene or Necrosis.
    3. Crush syndrome.
    4. Neglect of injured person.
    5. Surgical operation.
    6. Natural diseases.
    7. Supervention of a disease from a traumatic lesion.
    8. Thrombosis and embolism.
    9. Fat embolism. 
    10. Air embolism.



A blunt impact injury is an injury inflicted by an agent which is neither of a penetrating nor cutting nature. According to their external appearance blunt injuries are –

  1. Abrasions (i.e. scratches, grazes, imprint or pressure mark)
  2. Contusions (i.e. Bruises)
  3. Lacerations

The types of weapon which have been used to inflict blunt force trauma are numerous, but important once are-

  1. Agents implying intent but not necessarily premeditation and frequently not homicidal
    1. a) Hands       b) Foots         c) Boots          d) Teeth
  2. Agents implying intent but not usually homicidal
    1. a) Whips, canes, ropes etc.              b) Knukle,dusters.

  3. Heavy agents often associated with homicidal attacks
    1. a) Clubbing instruments       b) Axes and choppers



An assault with a clubbing instrument may take place in almost any locality either in the outdoors or indoors. When it occurs indoors in a confined space, the injuries may be modified by the limitation of movement imposed upon the assailant. The amount of disorder at the scene will depend upon whether the victim was taken unawares and rendered unconscious i.e. incapable of defending himself or whether he has been able to make a determined effort to protect himself. In the letter case great disorder may be found. Of the findings at the scene of this kind the widespread distribution of blood in the forms of spurts, smears and pools is the most significant feature.

If only on blow has been struck, even though an extensive laceration has  been inflicted, no blood may be projected from the wound because the leading edge of the instrument as it strikes the body expels blood from the tissue beneath it. the instrument itself may not even be blood stained. Any subsequent blows will force blood under considerable pressure through the torn vessels in the wound previously inflicted and this blood may be projected many feet in all directions, striking the walls, furniture, ceiling and of course the assailant. At the scene one may find blood as spurts or projected droplets from arterial bleeding or repeated blows to the body. Smears may be found where the injured person has brushed against the wall or other object. After the first laceration has been inflicted, the striking edge for a considerable distance behind, above or to the side of the assailant depending upon how he is using the instrument. The examination of collections or pools of blood may reveal where the injured person was lying and distribution of blood upon the clothing will provide valuable information as to the position of body after the injuries were received. Any weapon found at the scene must be handled with extreme care – it may have some blood or hair of the victim adherent to it and it may bear the fingerprints of the assailant. Such a print is of great importance that means the person whose blood stained fingerprint is present on the instrument, must have handled the weapon after the initial injury was inflicted.

Incised wounds

Incised wounds are inflicted by instruments with a sharp cutting edge such as razor blade or a sharp knife. The wound is normally straight, but may be irregular if inflicted over an area of lax tissue. The margins of the wound are clean and there is no bruising of the wound edges. All the tissues are cleanly divided even in the depth of the wound.

Incised wounds are of forensic importance because their presence usually implies an intentional act.


The suicidal person finds some quite place where he is unlikely to be disturbed, such as his/her bedroom or a locked bathroom. If the person kills themselves outside, the body may not be found for several days. When a person cuts his throat indoors he will often to it in front of a mirror and splashes will frequently be found on the glass itself. A homicidal assault may lack the privacy associated with a suicide as regards locality of the scene. In case of suicide one rarely finds any associated with a suicide as regards locality of the scene. In case of suicide one rarely finds any disorder at the scene. A suicidal person may walk considerable distances after cutting his throat or wrist and during this period of locomotion he may collapse and get up several times before the final collapse and at each place where he collapses or even stops, pools of blood are to be expected where a homicidal attach has taken place or considerable disturbance at the scene is almost invariable, unless the victim was rendered unconscious before the attach or was very old or where more than one assailant was involved.

Thermal Injuries


A burn is an injury which is caused by application of heat or chemical substances to the external or internal surfaces of the body, which causes destruction of tissues. The minimum temperature for producing a burn is about 44oC for an exposure of about 5 to 6 hours or about 65oC for two seconds are sufficient to produce burns.

Varieties of Burns: The external appearances of burns vary according to the nature of the substance used to produce them.

  1. A highly heated solid body or a molten metal, when applied to the body for a very short time may produce only a blister and reddening corresponding in size and shape to the material used. It will cause destruction, or even charring of the parts, when kept in contact for sometime. The epidermis may be found blackened, dry, and wrinkled. The hair may be singed or distorted.
  2. Burns produced by flame may or may not produce vesication, but singeing of the hair and blackening of the skin are always present. Hair singed by the flame becomes curled, twisted, blackish, breaks off or is totally destroyed. Roasted patches of skin or deeper parts may be seen.
  3. Burns caused by kerosene ,oil, petrol, etc. are usually severe and produce sooty blackening of the parts and have a characteristic odour.
  4. Burns caused by explosions in coal mines or of gunpowder are usually very extensive and produce blackening and tattooing due to driving of the particles of the unexploded powder into the skin.
  5. Burns due to X-ray and radium vary from redness of the skin to dermatitis, with shedding of hair and epidermis and pigmentation of the surrounding skin. Severe exposure may produce burns with erythema, blistering or dermatitis, or ulceration with delayed healing and ill-formed scars. Fingernails may show degenerative changes and wart-like growths. Infra-red rays may cause necrosis of the skin.
  6. Burns caused by ultraviolet rays (the sun or mercury vapour lamp) produce erythema or acute eczematous dermatitis.
  7. Burns from corrosive substances show ulcerated patches and are usually free from blisters’ hair is not singed and red line of demarcation is absent. They show distinct coloration and are usually uniform in character. Strong acids produce dark leathery burns upon the skin. Strong alkalis cause the skin to slough and leave moist, slimy, grayish areas. Hydrofluoric acid and bromine cause necrosis of the skin and tissues.
  8. Electrical burns.

Degree of Burns: Dupuytren divided burns into six degrees, but they were merged into three degrees by Wilson . The precise depth of a burn can be measured by a high frequency ultrasound device.

  1. Epidermal: (first and second degree Dupuytren).
  2. Dermo-epidermal: (third and fourth degrees Dupuytren).
  3. Deep: (fifth and sixth degrees, Dupuytren): In this, there is a gross destruction not only of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, but also muscles and bones are destroyed, and as such the burns are relatively painless. The appearances are similar to those of the second degree, but in a more severe form. The burnt part is completely charred.

Effects: The effects depend on:

  1. The degree of heat: The effects are severe, if the heat applied is very great. The body of an adult does not burn completely in a burnt house, as the temperature usually does not exceed 650oC. For purpose of cremation, a human body has to be incinerated for one and half hours at 1000oC. The ashes weigh 2 to 3 kg., and contain bone fragments which can be identified as human.
  2. The duration of exposure: The symptoms are more severe if the heat is applied for a long time.
  3. The extent of the surface: The estimation of the surface area of the body involved is usually worked out by the “rule of nine”, 9% for the head and each upper limb; 9% for the front of each lower limb; 9% for the front of chest; 9% for the back of chest; 9% for the front of the abdomen; and 9% for the back of abdomen, 99% of the body. The remaining 1% is for the external genitalia. Involvement of 50 percent of the body surface will prove fatal even when the burns are only of the first degree.
  4. The site: Burns of the head and neck, trunk or the anterior abdominal wall are more dangerous.
  5. Age: Children are more susceptible, old people less.
  6. Sex: Women are more susceptible.

Causes of Death: (1) Primary (neurogenic) shock due to pain, etc. (2) More than half of deaths from burns occur within the first 48 hours usually from secondary shock, due to fluid loss from burned surface. (3) Toxaemia, due to absorption of various metabolites from the burnt tissue persists up to 3 to 4 days. (4) Sepsis is the most important factor in deaths occurring 4 to 5 days or longer after burning. (5) Biochemical disturbances, secondary to the fluid loss and destruction of tissue, e.g., hypokalemia. (6) Acute renal failure, due to lower nephron nephrosis occurs on the third or fourth day. (7) Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as acute peptic ulceration, dilation of the stomach, haemorrhage into intestines. (8) Oedema of glottis and pulmonary oedema due to inhalation of smoke containing CO and CO2, if the person dies in a burnt house. (9) Accident occurring in an attempt to escape from a burning house or by injuries due to falling masonry, timber or other structures on the body. (10) Pyaemia, gangrene, tetanus, etc. (11) Fat embolism is rare. (12) Pulmonary embolism from thrombosis of veins of the leg due to tissue damage and immobility.

Post-mortem Appearances:

External: The clothes should be removed and examined for the presence of smell of kerosene, petrol, etc. They should be put into airtight bottles and sent for chemical analysis. It is difficult to determine the time of death as body temperature, post-mortem hypostasis and rigor mortis cannot be assessed. The burnt areas will be found reddened and blistered or charred. Blisters may be present either in the main burn or as islands beyond the periphery. The whole of the burned area may form one large blister or be confluence of blisters. The degree of burning in each area should be assessed. Hair is singed, or completely burnt. In lesser degrees of burns, ends are bulbous at intervals. Heat rigor may be observed in the muscles. Portions of the body where clothing is tight, e.g., under the belt, shoes, brassier or buttoned collar are often comparatively unaffected. Sometimes, skin and hair in the armpits and the gums are spared. The colour of light hair changes on exposure to heat. At about 120oC for 10 to 15 minutes, brown hair becomes slightly reddish. There is no change in the colour of the black hair. The face swollen and distorted. The tongue protrudes and may be burnt due to the contraction of the tissues of the neck and face. Froth may appear at the mouth and nose due to pulmonary oedema caused by heat irritation of the air-passages and lungs. In the hands, the skin detaches as glove, including the fingernails. By removal of the superficial layers of the skin by wiping  or rubbing, tattoo marks become visible. The blisters of a second degree burns cannot be distinguished from blisters seen in CO poisoning, deep coma, ante-mortem and post-mortem gasoline exposure and peeling of the skin seen in the early stages of putrefaction. When these various types of blisters burst, they leave a pale, moist, raw surface which becomes yellow, tan and finally dark brown and leathery as it dries.

Pugilistic Attitude (boxing, fencing, or defence attitude): The posture of a body which has been exposed to great heat is often characteristic. The legs are flexed at the hips and knees, the arms are flexed at elbows and wrists and held out in front of the body, all fingers are hooked like claws, contraction of paraspinal muscles often causes a marked opisthotonus, in an attitude commonly adopted by boxers. This stiffening is due to the coagulation of proteins of the muscles and dehydration which cause contraction. The flexor muscles being bulkier than extensors contract more. It occurs whether the person was alive or dead at the time of burning.

Heat Ruptures: If the heat applied is very great, skin contracts and heat ruptures occur, either before or after death. They are produced by splitting of the soft parts. These splits may be anywhere, but are usually seen over extensor surfaces and joints. These ruptures or splits in the skin may be several centimeters in length, and superficially they may resemble lacerations or even incised wounds. They can be differentiated by: (1) Absence of bleeding in the wound and surrounding tissues, since heat coagulates the blood in the vessels. (2) Intact vessels and nerves are seen in the floor. (3) Irregular margins. (4) Absence of bruising or other signs of vital reaction in the margins.

Sometimes, the charred skin cracks easily when an attempt is made to remove the body from a house destroyed by fire. These tears are commonly seen around joints, especially the elbows, shoulders and knees.

“Flash burns” refer to thermal burns due to sudden, brief exposure to flame. This type of exposure is common in explosions, or ignition of fine particulate material or upon ignition of highly inflammable liquids. All exposed surfaces are burned uniformly. If clothing is ignited, a combination of flash and flame burn occurs.

Human bodies burn readily, especially when the subcutaneous fatty tissues have ignited. Often, some parts of the body are preserved, if they are protected from the flames. In sitting persons, the buttocks may be spared; if the head falls forward between the knees, the abdomen is spared. The hands and feet may drop off if the burning is sudden and intense, and they may be preserved with slight damage because they fall away from the source of fire. Flexion of the limbs by heat may cause tumbling of a burnt body from a bed or chair to the floor, if the body was not well balanced. Partial burning of the abdominal wall associated with gas expansion within the intestines may produce rupture of the abdominal wall, in the charred burnt victim. The intestines may protrude through this defect. Flame burns usually have a patchy distribution and vary in size and shape. Sometimes, the body may be covered with a black or brown layer of smoke which does not penetrate into skin creases. On straightening the flexed neck or limb, the paler skin in the crease is exposed which may mimic a ligature mark. In severe burns, the skin may be stiffened, yellow-brown and leathery. Drying after death leaves a stiff, parchment-like surface. Muscles under the burnt area are pale, brownish and part-cooked. This occurs after death due to heated environment. Black, brittle masses are found in the tissues merging into cooked dry muscle beneath. Brunt bone has a gray-white colour, often showing a fine superficial network of heat fractures on its cortical surface. The soft tissue of the face may be completely burnt exposing the skull. The outer tables of the exposed cranial vault may show a network of fine criss-crossing heat fractures. If the flame is unchecked, the body will be reduced to a shapless, carbonaceous mass and finally to heap of grey and yellow ashes.

Establishment of Identity: In a charred body, the weight and stature are unreliable, as they are greatly altered due to drying of the tissues, skeletal fractures, and pulverization of intervertebral discs due to the heat. The stature may be less by several centimeters and weight loss may be up to 60%. The features are changed due to contractions of the skin. Moles, scars and tattoo marks are usually destroyed. Dental charts should be prepared and X-rays of the jaws taken, which can be compared with previous charts of the suspected person. Complete X-rays of the body of the victim are useful to locate possible old fractures, bony abnormalities or foreign bodies. In a badly charred or incinerated body, the sex can be determined by finding the uterus or prostate which resist fire to a marked degree, and by pelvic bones, and age by teeth and by observing centers of ossification in the bones and the condition of the epiphyses. If the whole body is destroyed, personal effects such as keys, watch, buttons, belt-buckle, cuff-links, etc., may help in identity.

Internal: Heat haematoma occurs when the head has been exposed to intense heat, sufficient to cause charring of the skull. It has the appearance of extradural hemorrhage, but is not accompanied by any signs of injury by blunt force. It consists of a soft, friable clot of light chocolate color, and may be pink, if the blood contains CO. The clot has a honeycomb appearance. The thickness of the clot varies from 1.5 to 15mm, and the volume up to 120 ml. The adjacent brain shows hardening and discoloration from the heat. The distribution of the clot follows closely the distribution of the charring of the outer table of the skull. The parietotemporal region is the most common site of such hemorrhage. The mechanism of its development is obscure. Possibly, the blood, may come from the venous sinuses or the diploic veins by the shrinkage of the brain due to heat.

The skull fractures occur most commonly in areas where the skull has been severely burned. There are two types of thermal fractures of the skull. (1) Intracranial increase of steam pressure causes separation of ununited sutures or an intracranial explosion occurs, producing fractures with gaping defects and widely separated bony margins. (2) The fracture occurs due to rapid drying of the bone with contraction, and only involves the outer table of the skull. In this type there is no displacement, and the lines of fracture are frequently stellate. Skull fractures are usually seen on either side of the skull above the temples. They consist of several lines which radiate from a common centre. Heat fractures usually do not involve the sutures of the skull even in young persons with un-united sutures. Heat fracture may cross a suture line. Peculiar, characteristically curved fractures are often seen in bones of extremities exposed to very high temperatures.

Even in cases of severe external charring, the internal organs are usually well preserved, as the tissues of the body are poor heat conductors. Sometimes, brain, liver, lung, etc., may be cooked, i.e., hardened and discoloured. In death due to burns, the CO levels in the blood will be more than 10% and may reach 70 to 80%, though children and old person die at levels of 30 to 40%. The blood is cherry-red, which may change to brownish due to heat. The level of CO saturation of the blood is dependant on concentration of CO in the inhaled air, the duration of exposure, the rate and depth of respiration, the haemoglobin content of the blood and the activity of the victim. CO may be absent in blood due to various reasons, such as rapid death, convection air currents, low production of CO, flash fire (as in the conflagration of a chemical plant.), inhalation of superheated air resulting in death by suffocation, in warfare, or in an explosion when death is instantaneous. If death has occurred from suffocation, aspirated blackish coal particles are seen in the nose, mouth, larynx, trachea, bronchi, esophagus and stomach and blood is cherry-red. Such particles are embedded in frothy mucus which covers the congested mucosa. The presence of carbon particles in the terminal bronchioles on histological examination is absolute proof of life during the fire. The soot is better seen by spreading a thin film of mucus on a clean sheet of white paper. The amount of soot in the air-passages depends on the type of fire, the mount of smoke produced and the duration of survival in the smoke-contaminated atmosphere. Presence of carbon particles and an elevated CO saturation together are absolute proof that the victim was alive when the fire occurred. If the mouth is open, some passive percolation of soot may be found at the back of the pharynx, but it cannot be carried beyond the vocal cords, and also it is not found in the lower esophagus and the stomach. In absence of CO in blood and soot in the airways, death may result possibly due to poisoning with CO2 and/or O2 deficiency. Poisonous gases like cyanide and oxides of nitrogen are produced due to burning of plastic and synthetic material. Burning of nitrogen containing substances, e.g. nitrocellulose film may liberate nitrogen oxide and nitrogen tetroxide. Burning of wool or silk liberate ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulphide and oxides of sulphur. All these gases contribute to death. depending on the materials burning in the fire, various levels of cyanide are found in the blood, but the levels are usually less than 0.3 mg.%. Cyanide can be produced in significant concentration by decomposition of the body. Blood should be preserved by fluoride for analysis of cyanides. If flame or superheated air is inhaled, burns are seen in the interior of the mouth, nasal passages, larynx and air-passages with destruction of vocal cord epithelium and acute edema of the larynx and lungs. Death may occur rapidly by shock or acute respiratory insufficiency. The interior of the larynx, trachea and main bronchi may be thickened and blanched, or reddened. If the victim survives for a few days, inflammatory changes occur in the larynx, with sloughing of mucosa, ulceration and secondary infection.

Haemoconcentration is present, and frequently there is some tissue edema and excess of fluid in the serous cavities. The brain is usually shrunken, firm and yellow to light-brown due to cooking. The dura matter is leathery. The dura may split and the brain tissue may ooze out, forming a mass of frothy paste. The pleurae are congested or inflamed. The lungs are usually congested, and show marked edema; they may be shrunken and rarely anaemic. The vessels of the lungs may contain a small amount of fat due to a physico-chemical alteration of fat already present in the blood. Visceral congestion is marked in many cases. Petechial haemorrhages are usually found in the pleurae, pericardium and endocardium. The heart is usually filled with clotted blood. There may be inflammation and ulceration of Peyer’s patches and solitary glands in the intestines. Occasionally, ulcers are produced in the duodenum (Curling ulcers), about the tenth day in extensive burns of the body. Curling’s ulcers are usually sharply punched-out mucosal defects, which may be superficial or deep. Petechiae of stomach and duodenum, often with erosions, occasionally acute ulcers, is a more common finding. The large boel may also be involved. The spleen is enlarged and softened. The liver may show cloudy swelling. Fatty liver is not due to burns, but due to treatment with tannic acid. Jaundice may occur. The kidneys may show cloudy swelling, capillary thrombosis and infarction. The adrenals may be enlarged and congested. When more than 30%  of the skin surface is burnt, haemoglobinuria occurs. Depending on the materials burning in the fire, various levels of cyanide are found in the blood but the levels are usually less than 0.3 mg%.

Laryngeal Oedema: It may be caused by allergic anaphylactic reactions, infections, tumors, inhalation of flame or superheated air, inhalation of irritant gases, etc. the amount of oedema will decrease with post-mortem interval and only wrinkling of mucous membrane may be present. Microscopically, eosinophils may be seen.

Blood should be obtained from the heart or major vessels and placed in a tightly stoppered container. It need not be collected or kept under oil. If blood is clotted, the clot should be preserved.

Age of Burns: The ageing of the burns is very inaccurate and depends upon the agent, the extent, and their depth. Redness appears immediately, and vesication in about an hour. The exudates beings to dry in 12 to 24 hours and forms a dry, brown crust within 2 to 3 days. The red inflammatory zone disappears in 36 to 72 hours, and pus may form under sloughs. Superficial sloughs fall off in 4 to 6 days, and deeper sloughs within two weeks. After this, granulation tissue covers the surface and a scar is formed after several weeks.

Ante-mortem and Post-mortem Burns: In ante-mortem burns, a zone of hyperaemia (line of redness), which varies in width, but is usually 5 to 20 mm. is present at the edge of the burnt area, except in cases of immediate death. it is due to oedema of tissues and capillary dilatation and merges with the edge of the burn which may shows blistering or charring. It involves whole thickness of true skin. It is permanent and persists after death. if the whole body is burnt, line of redness will be absent. The ante-mortem blister appears as a raised dome and contains gas or fluid. The base and periphery show reddening with swollen papillae. Post-mortem blister is dry, hard and yellow. The protein content of serous fluid is not of much value to differentiate ante-mortem and post-mortem burns. In ante-mortem burns, the skin adjacent to burnt area shows an increased reaction for SH groups in all layers, and increase in enzyme reaction. Acid mucopolysaccharides are present in the superficial zone of burnt area. Burns produced shortly before or after death cannot be distinguished either by naked eye or by microscopic examination.

Circumstances of Death: The distribution of burns on the clothing may indicate the manner in which it was ignited, the posture of the victim at the time, the path taken by flames and to discover that unburnt cloth was saturated with some inflammable material. Splash patterns burnt into the floor and floor coverings, holes in the floor, particularly holes of the ‘tongue and groove’ type and the characteristic odour of petroleum fuels and solvents are all useful indicators of the use of inflammable material. Differentiation is mostly a matter for the police investigation. The inhalation of CO often causes severe muscular in coordination, weakness, and confusion due to which the victim is unable to escape and dies of asphyxia, the body being burnt after death.

Accident: Large numbers of deaths are accidental. Infants, children, epileptics, intoxicated or drugged persons or helpless from other causes may fall into a fire. When an intoxicated person goes to bed smoking, and drops a lighted cigarette, he may die due to burns. Lamps or stoves may explode and set fire to the clothes. Clothes of women may catch fire accidentally while cooking. In such cases, burns are usually found on the front of thighs, abdomen, chest and face. There may be severe burning of the hands due to the victim trying to extinguish the fire by beating out the flames. The feet and ankles are usually not burnt. Multiple deaths from burns may result from plane crashes or automobile accidents. In industry, burns may be caused by explosions from inflammable liquids and by flashes from furnaces. The skin resting on the surface is well preserved.

Suicide: Occasionally, women commit suicide by pouring kerosene on their clothes before setting fire to themselves due to domestic worries, disappointment in love or acute or chronic disease. Extensive burns are seen over the whole of the body; only the skin folds, such as the axillae and the perineum being spared. Sometimes, a person may keep a piece of cloth in her mouth to suppress her cries. Sometimes, suicidal burning is a mode of public protest. In case kerosene, petrol, etc. is found on the body including head hair in high amounts, it is likely to be either suicide or homicide.

Homicide: Murder by burning is rare. If an inflammable fluid such as kerosene, petrol, etc., is poured on a person lying on his back and then burnt, there will be burning of the sides of the neck, sides f the trunk, between the thighs and other areas, especially if the clothing is absent in those areas, as the fluid runs downwards. Sometimes, fire, hot metals, boiling water and corrosive substances are used with criminal intent. A drunken man may push or throw his wife or child on the fire, and sometimes lighted lamps may be used as missiles. Burns may be inflicted on the pudenda of women as a punishment for adultery. Attempts may be made to burn a body after homicide with the object of concealing the crime. In such cases, the body should be examined for marks of violence, e.g., stab wounds, bullets, strangulation, etc. In cases of Individual dying due to Extensive burns  under  Alcohol intoxication/influence of drugs no accidental nature should be specifically ruled out.

Self-inflicted Burns: Burns are sometimes self-inflicted in order to support a false charge.


In some instances, burnt bones and ashes are forwarded to the forensic  pathologist for inspection, if the police suspect some foul play after a body is partially or completely burnt. In an ordinaryhouse fire, the temperature seldom exceeds 1200oC. It is, therefore, unlikely that the body of an adult will burn so completely as to leave no trace. If the body is not completely consumed, fragments of bones left would afford sufficient evidence to indicate whether they were human or not. The combustion of a body is rarely so complete as to reduce it to ashes. Hence, by shifting the ashes through sieves, fragments of bones can be collected and identified by a careful study.

Incineration of an adult human body for the purpose of cremation requires 1 ½ hour at 1600-1800oC, and the resultant ashes weigh about 4-6 kg. Such human ash contains bone pieces which may still be identified.

Todd and Krogman working on a body burned in an auto, concluded:

When the soft tissue around the bones are small in amount (thin) the bones show sharp heat induced fractures of the skull and limb-bones (usually transverse), charring, calcining and splintering, while with thick soft tissue, e.g., in femur, pelvis and nuchal areas of skull the substance of the bones shows the molten or guttered condition characteristic of fusion by heat.

A bone is white in appearance when burnt in the open, and black or ash grey when burnt in the closed fire. A burnt bone preserves its shape, but falls to powder when pressed between the fingers. It is said that it will be reduced to charcoal if treated with hydrochloric acid, but this is not necessarily true. If it is burnt to such an extent that organic matter is destroyed, no charcoal will be left on adding acid. When exposed to very high temperature, characteristically curved fractures may be produced in long bones and skull. A bone becomes so brittle and friable on prolonged exposure of the fire victim to such intense heat, that it is readily fractured during transport of the body, or its being moved, or during examination. A hyoid bone may similarly break on manipulation. A forceful stream from a fire-hose can fragment a bone like the femur, rendered brittle by exposure to such high temperatures. The skull bursts due to the formation of steam within the skull cavity as a result of intense heat. Such explosive post-mortem fractures are accompanied by gaping defects and separation of non-united sutures and protrusion of brain matter. Intense heat can lead to desiccation of skull, with the production of post-mortem thermal linear fracture, commonly located on either side of the skull, above the temples. They usually consist of several lines which radiate from a common centre. If the appearance is not typical, distinction from an ante-mortem skull fracture may be difficult. Besides, post-mortem mechanical fracture of any bone, due to the fall of a wall or a beam can also occur. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between post-mortem thermal fracture and post-mortem mechanical fracture.

In cases of suspected poisoning by some mineral, eg, arsenic, all the available ashes and burnt bones should be preserved for chemical analysis. This is because, despite its volatility, it is possible to detect arsenic in large pieces of burnt bones mixed with ashes in cases of arsenic poisoning, for the following reasons.

  1. Much of the arsenic in bones is converted into arsenates, partially replacing the phosphates of the bones. Arsenates are non-volatile; hence arsenic can be detected in the bones even after strong heating for a long time.
  2. Even if all the arsenic were present in the bones in the form of arsenic trioxide or some other volatile form, all the arsenic is not likely to be lost during the process of cremation, as complete combustion of a body does not, as a rule, occur in India. Hence, some of the volatilized arsenic is liable to be condensed on the cooler parts of the unburnt funeral pyre, where its presence may be detected.

When arsenic trioxide is heated with salts of sodium or earth group, part of the arsenic is converted into arsenite and becomes non-volatile.


The medico-legal investigation of a death from burns should be aimed at answering the following questions.

  1. Was the person alive before fire started?
  2. Did the burns cause death
  3. If death was from causes other than burns, did the burns contribute to death?
  4. Were there any natural diseases or injuries that could have caused death or contributed to
  5. Were the burns sustained accidentally or did the person commit suicide?
  6. Was the death of crime?
  7. Was there any attempt to conceal crime?
  8. What was the cause of the onset of fire?
  9. What evidence was found to identify the decedent?

Occasionally, with multiple fatalities, one may be asked who died first.

Examination of scene may reveal information regarding the cause of fire and may also in the site of origin of the fire. The overall study of the circumstances of death at the scene may information concerning the manner of death.

From the scene of death all personal belongings such as keys, watch band, bell buckle, button cuff links and pieces of unburned clothing should be collected. These can be helpful in established the identity of the decedent.


Three clinical conditions any result from exposure to high environmental temperature: (1) heat cramps, (2) heat hyperpyrexia, and (3) heat prostration.

  1. Heat Cramps: (miner’s cramps, stoker’s cramps, or fireman’s cramps): They are caused by a rapid dehydration of body through the loss of water and salt in the sweat. It is seen in workers in high temperature when sweating has been profuse,. The onset is usually sudden. Severe and painful paroxysmal cramps affecting the muscles of the arms, legs and abdomen occur. The face is flushed, the pupils dilated and the patient complains of dizziness, tinnitus, headache and vomiting. Intravenous injection of saline gives rapid relief.
  2. Heat Hyperpyrexia or Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is a condition characterized by rectal temperature greater than 41oC; and neurological disturbances, sucha s psychosis, delirium, stupor, coma, and convulsions. The term thermic fever or “sunstroke” is used when there has been direct exposure to the sun. High  temperature, increased humidity, minor infections, muscular activity, and lack of acclimatization are the principal factors in the initiation. Where there is 100% humidity, a temperature of 32oC in the environment may lead to heat stroke. Other factors are old age, pre-existing disease, alcoholism, use of major tranquilizers, obesity, lack of air movement and unsuitable clothing. Failure of cutaneous blood flow and sweating, the factors which control body temperature, leads to a breakdown of the heat regulating centre of the hypothalamus.

Clinical Features: The onset is usually sudden, with sudden collapse and loss of consciousness. In some cases, prodromal symptoms of headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, mental confusion, muscle cramps, restlessness and excessive thirst occur. The temperature rises to 40oC to 43oC or more. The skin is dry, hot and flushed, with complete absence of sweating. The pupils are contracted,. The pulse is rapid (usually more than 130 p.m.) and later becomes irregular. The breathing is rapid, (usually above 30 breaths p.m.) deep and of Kussmaul type. Blood pressure is low. Convulsions occur and the patient becomes delirious or comatose. The fatal period is 5 minutes to 3 days.

Post-mortem Appearances: They are not specific. The temperature remains high after death. C.N.S: The brain is congested and edematous and petechial hemorrhages are seen in the white matter . cerebral hemispheres are increased in weight and show flattening of the convolutions. Cellular changes with pyknotic nuclei, swollen dendrites, chromatolytic changes, degeneration of neurons and diffuse proliferation of mocroglia are seen. Changes occur in cerebellum rapidly which are more striking and consistent and consist of oedema of the Purkinje layer and swelling, disintegration and reduction of the Purkinje cells. If the person survives for 24 hours, complete degeneration of the Purkinje layer and gliosis are seen. Rarefaction of the granular layer occurs with prolonged survival. Hypothalamus shows oedema of the nuclei. Respiratory system: Trachea and bronchi contain frothy hemorrhagic fluid. The lungs show oedema, congestion and hemorrhages. Heart: Dilation of right auricle, flabbiness of muscle, petechial or confluent subepicardial and subendocardial hemorrhages and degeneration of myocardium. Liver: Congestion and centrilobular necrosis. Kidneys: Congestion, oedema and increase in weight. In case of longer survival, haemoglobinuric nephrosis is common. Adrenals: Pericapsular hemorrhages, engorgement of sinusoids and cortical degeneration. General: Petechial and confluent haemorrhages are seen in most organs.

  1. Heat Prostration(heat exhaustion; heat syncope, or heat collapse): Heat prostration is a condition of collapse without increase in body temperature, which follows exposure to excessive heat. It is precipitated by muscular work and unsuitable clothing. There is extreme exhaustion and peripheral vascular collapse. The patient feels suddenly weak, giddy and sick. He may stagger or fall. The face is pale, the skin cold, the temperature subnormal. The pupils are dilated, the pulse small and thready and the respiration sighing. The patient usually recovers if placed at rest, but death may take place from heart failure.



A scald is an injury which results from the application of liquid about 60oC or from steam. The destruction does not extend as deeply as in burns. Redness appears at once and blistering will take place within a few minutes. If blistered skin is removed, it will leave a pink raw surface and later the exposed dermis becomes brownish, hard and dry. Scalds show saddening and bleaching but do not singe the hair, and do not blacken or char the skin. Superheated steam soddens the skin which becomes dirty white colour.

Degrees of Scalds: (1) Erythema by vasoparalysis, (2) Blister formation due to increased permeability of the capillaries, (3) Necrosis of the dermis.

The injury is limited to the area of contact and is more severe at the point of the initial contact. Scalding can occur through clothing. Scalded areas are usually large, but may be small if caused by splashing. Streaks of liquid run downwards from the main area causing lines of blisters. Sticky liquids. Such as syrup, oils and tar cause more severe scalds than hot water. There is usually a sharply demarcated edge, corresponding to the limits of contact of the fluid. The scalded skin may swell and exude serum. Scars of scalds are much thinner than those of deep burns and cause less contraction and disfigurement. Blisters have an hyperaemic zone around them. There is a reddening and swelling of the papillae in the floor of the blister. The blister fluid contains white and red cells. A post-mortem blister does not show hyperaemia in the surrounding area and the floor is not red. If inflammable fluids are used, signs of trickling of the burning fluid will be present on some parts of the body, e.g. if kerosene is splashed on a body lying on its back and then ignited, runs of burning liquid will be seen on the sides of the neck, sides of the trunk, between the thighs, etc. Inhalation of steam may cause thermal injury of the respiratory tract, producing death by asphyxia due to obstruction to airway by the oedematous mucous membrane. Death usually occurs from shock, fluid and electrolyte disturbance and secondary infection.

Occurrence: Scalds are usually accidental due to bursting of hot water bottles, bursting of boilers, splashing of fluid from cooking utensils, or pulling over saucepans or kettles by children, etc. Occasionally, children suck the spouts of kettles, which causes severe steam scalds of the mouth and air-passages with oedema of the glottis. Suicide by scalding is rare. Boiling water ma be thrown with intent to injure. Murder scalding is rare.

Spontaneous combustion: Spontaneous combustion of the human body not occur. A body can never be consumed without the application of fire or flame and it cannot be reduced to ashes without the surrounding objects being set on fire.

Preternatural Combustion: This is very rare. During putrefaction,

inflammable gases are produced in abdomen due to the action of microorganisms upon organic matter. These gases are ignited if a flame is nearby, and cause partial burning of the neighbouring soft tissues, but complete combustion of the body does not take place. It is not a valid scientific phenomenon.

During life, inflammable gases, such as hydrogen, hydrogen sulphide and methane may be formed in the alimentary tract. Such gases when belched or let off from the anus, may be ignited on the application of a flame and cause a burn at the site.