Manner of Death

Most deaths caused by electrocution are accidental in manner. Not infrequently, these can be blamed on defective tools or electrical appliances. Electrocutions caused by high-voltage wires occur secondary to inadvertent contact with a high-voltage line when operating or in contact with a device such as a "cherry picker." Other causes of electrocution are touching a downed electrical line or inadvertently making contact with a line via a radio antenna or kite. The authors have also seen cases of a sexual nature where electrodes have been found in the anus or attached to the penis.

Suicides are rare, although occasionally, individuals will build elaborate devices to electrocute themselves. Homicides are even rarer. The most common method of homicide with electrical current is to drop a plugged-in

Figure 16.2 (A and B) High-voltage electrical burns with multiple individual and confluent burn areas (continued).

electrical device into a bathtub while an individual is taking a bath. There are usually no electrical burns in such a case and, if the electrical device is removed, the cause of death will be missed.

Bathtub electrocutions, both homicidal and accidental, are becoming less common, because of the fairly widespread use of low-voltage Ground-Fault Current Interrupters (GFCI). These are required in kitchens, bathrooms and outside outlets. This device monitors the current flow. If there is a greater than 5-mA difference, the circuit is broken, thus preventing electrocution. A normal circuit breaker does not function until a 15-A difference is detected. Thus, in most cases of electrocution, the house fuse is unaffected by the electrocution. Electrocution in water could also be caused by defective lights in a swimming pool. GFCIs prevent this type of accident.

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