Fatal and non-fatal burn injuries with electrical weapons and explosive fumes

Mark W Kroll, Mollie B Ritter, Howard E Williams
Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 2017, 50: 6-11

INTRODUCTION: While generally reducing morbidity and mortality, electrical weapons have risks associated with their usage, including eye injuries and falls. With the presence of explosive fumes or fuels there also exists the possibility of burn injury.

METHODS: We searched for cases of fatal and non-fatal major burns with TASER® electrical weapon usage where there was a possibility that the weapon ignited the explosion.

RESULTS: We confirmed 6 cases of fatal burn injury and 4 cases of major non-fatal burns out of 3.17 million field uses. The mean age was 35.5 ± 9.7 years which is consistent with the typical arrest-related death. Moderate, minor, and noninjurious fires - typically due to a cigarette lighters in a pocket, petrol, recreational inhalants, or body spray were also noted.

CONCLUSIONS: The use of electrical weapons presents a small but real risk of death from fatal burn injury. It also presents a small risk of major non-fatal burn injury. The ignition of petrol fumes dominates these cases of major fatal and nonfatal burns.

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