Skull Injuries Caused by Blows With Glass Bottles

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Abstract

The medicolegal literature provides many reports on the morphological appearance of stab injuries caused by pieces of broken glass (e.g., glass splinters). The review presented here focuses on the particular aspect of blow injuries to the head and skull inflicted by glass bottles. Findings from an experimental biomechanical study conducted by the authors as well as 10 case reports are presented and discussed in detail. In order to characterize typical findings and provide valuable guidelines for practical casework, cases of blows to the head with glass bottles that were not followed by any serious injuries are compared to such cases in which the blows resulted in fatal outcome. Combinations of lacerations and incised wounds were encountered in most cases. Interestingly, lacerations were of major severity as opposed to the incised wounds. The latter were, as a rule, only superficial. Differences in bottle shape, weight, and filling conditions did not account for any differences of the resulting injuries and the breaking behavior of the bottles, respectively. Strikingly, even in the cases in which death was attributable to the blow with the glass bottle, the actual cause of death was not related to mechanical damage of bony structures or to brain injury (e.g., comminuted skull fractures or severe cerebral contusions). Here, rather exsanguination from the inflicted lacerations was found to be responsible for fatal outcome. Skull fractures resulting from blows to the head with glass bottles can be considered rare events. Regarding biomechanically relevant factors that are determined by the bottle itself, the minor elasticity of glass, as compared to bone, the filling condition, and the location of impact have to be considered as important. Additional factors related to the victim’s head, such as the quantity of hair, the thickness of the scalp, the configuration and thickness of the skull, and the elasticity of bone, also must be taken into account. Considering the high frequency of assaults against the head using glass bottles, it would be most helpful for forensic practical casework to gain more detailed and sophisticated knowledge on the subject (e.g., about biomechanical principles of skull injuries caused by blows with glass bottles). However, the case reports presented here, complemented by experimental biomechanical data, will contribute to the understanding and assessment of analogous cases in practical forensic casework.