Fractured Skull in Post-Mortem Examinations: A Comprehensive Overview

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow

Medico Legal

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Published on: 12 Aug, 2023

In forensic pathology, a fractured skull discovered during a post-mortem examination is a significant finding, often pointing to traumatic brain injury or blunt force trauma as a possible cause of death or contributing factor. Understanding the nature, characteristics, and mechanisms of such fractures can provide vital clues about the circumstances surrounding the death.

1. Types of Skull Fractures:

Linear Fractures: These are simple breaks in the bone, often resembling a straight line. They are the most common type of skull fracture.

Depressed Fractures: Caused by a direct blow to the head, these fractures create an indentation in the skull. The bone is pushed inward, potentially pressing on the brain.

Basilar Fractures: These involve the base of the skull and can lead to cerebrospinal fluid leakage. Battle’s sign (bruising behind the ears) and raccoon eyes (periorbital bruising) are clinical indicators of basilar fractures.

Compound Fractures: The skin is broken in these fractures, increasing the risk of infection.

Diastatic Fractures: These occur along the suture lines in the skull, causing them to widen. They’re more common in infants due to the softness of their skulls.

2. Mechanisms of Skull Fractures:

Skull fractures can result from various mechanisms:

  • Blunt Force Trauma: Typically from falls, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, or being struck by/with an object.
  • Penetrating Trauma: Such as gunshot wounds or stab wounds.
  • Crushing: When the head is squeezed between two objects.
  • Blast Injury: Such as from explosions.

3. Forensic Implications:

  • Determining the Cause of Injury: The type and pattern of the fracture can often hint at the cause. For example, a circular depressed fracture might suggest a hammer blow, while a linear fracture might indicate a fall.
  • Differentiating Accidental from Non-Accidental Injury: Accidental injuries, like those from falls, have patterns distinct from non-accidental injuries, such as assault.
  • Assessing the Force of Impact: The extent and nature of the fracture can give insights into the force and direction of the impact.
  • Time Since Injury: While determining the exact time of injury based on a fracture is challenging, associated findings like hemorrhage, healing, or infection can provide some temporal clues.

4. Associated Injuries:

A fractured skull often comes with associated injuries, which can include:

  • Brain Injuries: Such as contusions, hematomas, or diffuse axonal injury.
  • Soft Tissue Injuries: Including scalp lacerations, contusions, or hematomas.

5. Conclusion:

A fractured skull in a post-mortem examination is a significant finding that requires meticulous evaluation. By understanding the type, extent, and pattern of the fracture, forensic pathologists can piece together the events leading up to the death, aiding in legal investigations and providing answers to grieving families.


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