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Electrically-induced heat amputation of the hand in a case of fatal electric shock caused by a faulty table lamp

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Forensic Science, Medicine, and
ISSN 1547-769X
Forensic Sci Med Pathol
DOI 10.1007/s12024-013-9477-8
Electrically-induced heat amputation of the
hand in a case of fatal electric shock caused
by a faulty table lamp
Navena Widulin, René Gapert & Michael
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Electrically-induced heat amputation of the hand in a case of fatal
electric shock caused by a faulty table lamp
Navena Widulin Rene
´Gapert Michael Tsokos
Accepted: 19 July 2013
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Case history
In May 1970 the fully-clothed body of a 51-year-old
female was discovered by her son in an apartment in
Berlin, Germany. The deceased was found still holding a
medium-sized bronze table lamp in her left hand and a
smaller reading lamp in her right hand. Both lamps were
plugged into a double socket located on one of the walls
and were firmly grasped in front of her body. Her son
reported that the last time he had seen his mother alive was
at her workplace a day before. Forensic examination by the
police revealed that the bronze table lamp had a technical
fault. According to the son the lamp had been taken for
repair around Christmas, 1969.
Autopsy findings according to the forensic pathologists’
Autopsy report 217/1970 (excerpt):
The decedent was a 51-year-old female (body height:
158 cm/body weight: 66 kg). There was almost complete
separation of the right hand at the wrist caused by elec-
trically-generated heat. A narrow strip of skin was the only
connecting bridge between the right hand and forearm.
There was a large amount of skin slippage and blistering of
the left and right upper arms, the right forearm, and the
backs of both hands. The palmar skin showed partial green
There was further skin slippage in the superolateral
quadrant of the right chest; the underlying pectoral mus-
culature on the right side was markedly paler than the
remaining musculature. Edema of the brain and of the
lungs was evident. The heart musculature was flaccid.
Small bruises were evident below the jugular fossa. The
coronary arteries show slight calcifications and evidence of
moderate general arteriosclerosis. The uterus showed evi-
dence of small myoma nodules.
These findings, in connection with the scene findings
and background research conducted by the police, point to
death caused by electric shock. There were no gross
pathological findings of the internal organs which may
suggest an illness-related death. The autopsy did not reveal
any evidence of applied mechanical physical force by an
external individual. Final cause of death is electric shock.
Museum specimen
The museum specimen number 145 CBF consists of the
right hand and distal section of the right forearm. The
N. Widulin
Berlin Museum of Medical History, Charite
´, University
Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany
R. Gapert (&)
Human Anatomy, UCD School of Medicine and Medical
Science, Health Sciences Centre, University College Dublin,
Dublin, Ireland
R. Gapert M. Tsokos
Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, Charite
University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Forensic Sci Med Pathol
DOI 10.1007/s12024-013-9477-8
Author's personal copy
specimen is linked to autopsy number 217/1970 and is part
of the non-public section of the forensic specimen collec-
tion of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sci-
ences in Berlin. Previous papers have described other
interesting specimens held in this collection [1,2].
The skin discoloration and electric burn marks around
the amputation sites can be clearly seen in Fig. 1. Although
the specimen was mounted over 43 years ago it still retains
some of the detailed coloration of the skin and subcuta-
neous fatty tissue. The electrical burn marks are also vis-
ible. The specimen was embedded in a special color-
preserving gelatin called ‘‘Schwerigal.’’ ‘‘Schwerigal’’ was
invented in the 1960s and has since been superseded by
other museum specimen technology.
It was not possible to examine the specimen in detail as
the ‘‘Schwerigal’’ gelatin is still in good condition and the
jar did not require any maintenance work. The authors
decided to leave the specimen in the original jar without
disrupting the gelatin. The jar measures 10 cm 910 cm 9
30.5 cm.
The original autopsy report 217/1970 described a nar-
row skin tissue bridge still connecting the hand and fore-
arm. It can be assumed that this tissue bridge was severed
at autopsy as it is no longer evident in the potted specimen.
The specimen in this case demonstrated an electrically-
induced heat amputation of the right hand at the wrist due
to a faulty electrical device. The amputation was almost
complete and these cases are extremely rare. Tsokos
reported on a traumatic amputation of the left arm in
connection with an accidental death caused by a high-
voltage current in 2012 [3]. Reviewing the case history of
this specimen raised some interesting questions. Why was
the woman holding two lamps in her hands? Was the
bronze table lamp faulty because of human error or did she
deliberately cause a fault with suicide in mind? In retro-
spect, the police and autopsy reports do not provide enough
Fig. 1 Left Palmar view showing electrically-induced heat amputation of the right hand. Middle Dorsal view of the same specimen. Right
Lateral view of the same specimen
Forensic Sci Med Pathol
Author's personal copy
detail to reach a conclusive answer to these questions but it
is interesting to note that the faulty lamp was in her left
hand and the reading light was in her right hand. The
electric current traveling from the faulty lamp to the
reading light was most likely responsible for the heat
amputation of the right hand.
Acknowledgments Dr. Rene
´Gapert’s stay at the Institute of Legal
Medicine and Forensic Sciences in Berlin was supported by a DAAD
Research Scholarship (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst—
German Academic Exchange Service Research Grant A/12/74773).
1. Gapert R, Widulin N, Tsokos M. Occult hemispherectomy: an
unusual finding at autopsy. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2013;9:
2. Widulin N, Gapert R, Tsokos M. Sponge-like appearance of the
liver parenchyma due to fatal intrauterine gas gangrene following
mechanical abortion. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2013;9:274–6.
3. Tsokos M. Extensive electrical injuries with opening of the chest
wall due to arcing of high-voltage current. Forensic Sci Med
Pathol. 2012;8:338–9.
Forensic Sci Med Pathol
Author's personal copy
Background Thousands of Americans sustain injuries from various household appliances each year, though injury patterns have not been well characterized. We thus sought to determine the incidence, characteristics, and trends of household appliance-related hand injuries over the past decade. Methods The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database was queried from 2010 through 2019. Our analysis grouped patients into 10-year age groups. Chi-square tests were used to compare the most common injury mechanisms by age group. Results Between 2010 and 2019, 30,336 total cases of home workshop equipment-related upper extremity injuries were recorded; 2574 (8.48%) of these affected females, compared to 27,762 (91.52%) of the cases affecting males. This was out of 1,489,840 total patients visiting EDs: 124,706 (8.37%) females and 1,365,134 (91.63%) males. Across all age groups, males were between 6 and 13 more times likely to be injured than females (p < 0.001). Between 2010 and 2019, we recorded a decline in total injuries from 168,795 to 147,584, with a Pearson correlation coefficient of −0.68 (p = 0.031). The appliances most likely to injure those in their 10s through 40s were mechanical tools such as screwdrivers. Meanwhile, those in their 50s through 70s were most likely to be injured by saws. Both amputations and avulsions were found to significantly increase with age (p = 0.038, p = 0.027, respectively). Most injuries result from manual tools and saws. Discussion This aligns with previous research which also suggested that older saws were most likely to injure older individuals; namely, following new regulations on saws, older adults were more likely to be affected. This is especially worrisome in light of recent research showing that older adults with amputations are less likely to be offered replantations. Overall, these results can continue to guide and optimize community interventions on an epidemiological basis.
Over the last three decades, the field of forensic sciences has expanded enormously. A large number of new journals from different countries and various publishers that deal with the different subspecialties of forensic sciences clearly reflect this expansion. We as the scientific community have certainly noticed that electronic publishing, with medical journals only appearing online and without any hardcopy distribution, is getting more and more common [1, 2]. And indeed, this way to publish and to spread new knowledge is becoming more and more accepted within the scientific community [1, 2]—and why not? Even though I do prefer the smell of library rooms with their old leather chairs and hundreds of different books from different centuries that preserve the treasure of scientific knowledge, my personal attitude toward electronic publishing has changed over the past years. Those who have ever carried a load of textbooks and journals with them to have something to read on a business tri ...