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to what extent do wounds play in understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding a wrongful death


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Wound interpretation in the case of wrongful death is the job of the Forensic Pathologist, a physician who has had residency training in pathology and forensic pathology.  Death involving wounds is unnatural, either accident, homicide or suicide.  It is the task of the forensic pathologist to determine cause and circumstances...

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of death.

Wounds are conveniently divided into those from penetrating trauma, such as gunshot wounds and stabbings, versus wounds caused by blunt force injuries, including contusions (bruises), abrasions (scrapes), lacerations and fractures.

In a homicidal shooting the pathologist will determine the range and direction of fire.  Range of fire based on examination of gunshot wounds is classified as contact, near-contact, intermediate and distant.  Direction is determined by the path of the bullet into or through the body, and gives some indication of the direction from which the fire came, and/or the posture and position of the victim relative to that of the shooter.

In stabbing cases one can determine from the shape of the stab wound the rough dimensions and characteristics of the knife (single edge, double edge, presence or absence or serrations, thickness of blade, and so on).  There may be pinpoint prod injuries from the knife tip if the assailant has held the unarmed victim at bay before being fatally stabbed.  If stabbing was forceful, the stab wound may have an adjacent skin bruise or abrasion from the hilt/handle of the knife.  If extreme force is used there may be bruises around the stab wound from the assailant’s knuckles.

Contusions (bruises) are sometimes patterned, giving an indication of the shape of the blunt weapon used.  As an example, if a subject were struck with the broad side of a 2 x 4 piece of lumber hard against his outer upper arm, there will be a broad pale area measuring roughly 4 inches from the impact, outlined on either side by bruising.  The pallor (pale area) is from compression of the blood vessels beneath the area of impact.  The bruised or hemorrhagic area is caused by shearing forces at the edges of the board, where blood vessels are broken.  The blood vessels are compressed under the impact area.  The blood then squirts out at the weapon’s edges through the ruptured vessels.

These are examples of the role and method of wound interpretation in evaluating the circumstances of trauma-related deaths.

The first reference below is a firearms tutorial which describes and illustrates contact, intermediate range and distant gunshot wounds.  It includes excellent photos.

The second reference examines blunt force trauma and explains and illustrates bruises, abrasions and lacerations.  It has a link back to a main page which provides overall career information on Forensic Pathology.

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To what extent do wounds play a role in understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding wrongful death?facts

Wrongful death suits arise from many situations. You are asking specifically about wounds. Yes, wounds could be valuable evidence, depending of course on how the person died. Wrongful death suits are Tort actions. A tort is a civil wrong propagated against a person. In other words, torts are not criminal matters, but some turn into criminal matters if intent is shown. For example, you are admitted to the hospital for a routine "minor" surgery. Something happens in the perioperative period and you die. A couple of things are possible... maybe you had an unforeseen allergic reaction to the anesthesia, this is not a tort because no one did anything wrong. Let's say you had that same surgery but this time the surgeon or operating room nurse inadvertently left an instrument inside you. This of course is an accident, it was not intentional, but it is a tort because you are now injured and then you died. A wrongful death suit could be filed by your next of kin, and they would win !  But... the problem is you are still dead !

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To what extent do wounds play a role in understanding the facta and circumstances surrounding wrongful death?

Death itself and the fact that death was wrongfully caused is the primary element of the tort of wrongful death. To establish the tort, one must show a negligent, intentional, or wanton act on behalf of the defendant which caused the death of the victim. Wounds imply the amount of suffering one would incur as a result of the defendants actions. In that instance, a separate cause of action would lie for pain and suffering caused by the defendant's actions. Since the victim could have sued in his own right for pain and suffering, his right to sue would actually survive, in fact it is not uncommon for two actions to be brought in a single lawsuit. One cause of action would be for the pain and suffering caused while one was still alive and a second for the death itself. The age of the victim, possible earnings, services, love and affection lost because of the wrongful death are all elements of damage; however the type of wound inflicted is not a factor. A possible exception might be if the injury was intentionally caused. In that event, punitive damages might be in order.

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