Accidental sharp force fatalities - Beware of architectural glass, not knives

B. Karger, M. A. Rothschild, H. Pfeiffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In a retrospective evaluation of 799 consecutive autopsies of victims of sharp force performed between 1967 and 1996 in Münster and Berlin, only 18 cases (2.3%) were classified as accidents. A typical pattern was present in 15 cases: inebriated adults (1.4-3.6 g/l BAC) fell into an architectural glass surface in the form of a door or window (12 cases), an aquarium, a mirrored wardrobe or a telephone cell. Another man fell into a large drinking glass. Many victims in this group showed multiple scratches, abrasions and superficial incisions as well as one or more deep tear/cut/puncture injury. The wound margins can be clean-cut or irregular and abraded. Death was mostly caused by exsanguination except for one case of air embolism and one case of cerebral injury. The fatal injuries were produced by large and dagger-like slivers of glass, by sharp-edged fragments of glass remaining inside the frame or by a portion of glass which fell down and acted in a way similar to a guillotine. Ordinary types of flat glass were involved in all cases and it is not until the impact that sharp fragments or cutting edges are produced. So the motion of the person commonly provides the force necessary for a fatal injury. This was also true for the remaining two cases not involving architectural glass. A farmer suffered cerebral injury from a fall into the long prong of a pitch fork, and the wounding agent was a knife in only one case. A man who stated that he had fallen into the knife in his hand died from pneumonia after inadequate therapy following a single stab injury to the periphery of the left lung and liver. Accidents where the victim is killed by his own knife therefore appear to be extremely rare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-139
Number of pages5
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Accident
  • Architectural glass
  • Sharp force


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