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Full text of "Medical Jurisprudence And Toxicology"

LIGHTNING                                                            197

Sometimes murderers kill their victims by some other means, and then
set fire to their bodies or to their houses in order to conceal all evidence of
the crime. In such cases fatal injuries, such as fractures of skull bones,
etc. as a result of mechanical violence, or signs of strangulation, suffocation
or poisoning, may be found on the bodies, if they are not completely des-
troyed by fire. It must, however, be remembered that injuries on the body,
such as lacerated wounds or fractures of bones, may be produced by beams,
walls, etc. of a burning house falling on a living or dead person.

Accidental cases are very common, especially among women and
children on account of their loose garments catching fire, while sitting near
an angethi, chula, Primus stove or an open lamp. Lately, cases of acci-
dental death by burns sustained from Primus stoves have become so
frequent among the Gujarati women of Bombay that the Coroner has, on
several occasions, passed strong strictures against their husbands or parents
and warned them not to allow the use of these stoves in their houses.

A number of persons may die from burns, when a fire "breaks out in an
inhabited house or when an explosion occurs in a factory of gunpowder or
fireworks. In such cases wounds caused by the falling of rafters, bricks,
etc., in addition to the burns, may be seen on the bodies.

Children and feeble, epileptic, blind or intoxicated persons may fall in
fire or in cauldrons of boiling water, oil or ghee.

Children may be scalded by trying to drink from the spout of a kettle
containing boiling water or by the kettle falling accidentally upon them.

Spontaneous Combustion.  The possibility of spontaneous combustion
of a human body may be raised as a plea in defence of certain cases of
homicidal burning, but a body can never be consumed without the appli-
cation of fire or flame, though a few unauthentic cases have been recorded.
It is not even possible for a body composed of seventy-five per cent of its
weight of water to catch fire from a spark or flame and be reduced to ashes
without the surrounding objects being set on fire.

Preternatural Combustibility.  Preternatural combustibility is rarely
noticed in a body, when inflammable gases are produced in the abdomen by
the action of certain micro-organisms upon organic matter during the
process of putrefaction after death. If a light is near, these gases are ignited
and cause partial burning of the neighbouring soft tissues.

It must be remembered that during life inflammable gases may be
formed in the alimentary canal, and such gases, when belched, may be
ignited on the application of a flame. Murdoch7 relates a case in which a
man ignited his cigarette with a blow torch. Immediately there was an
explosion in his mouth, and flames shot out of his mouth for a few inches
with an audible report. There was a little bleeding from the mouth, and
the inside of the mouth and throat were bruised and slightly abraded.
Moutier 8 reported to the Society de Gastro-enterologie de Paris that as he
was starting to perform an intrarectal electrocoagulation, and though he had
taken the precaution of plugging the recto-sigmoid junction, there was an
explosion which caused the patient to collapse and gave her hiccups for a
quarter of an hour. Two hours later laparotomy revealed an extensive
ecchymosis at the recto-sigmoid junction.

During thunderstorms people are sometimes struck down by lightning
or atmospheric electricity in the open fields or in their houses, especially

7.   Jour. Amer. Med. Assoc., Dec. 24, 1949, p. 1,272 ; see also East, Lancet, Yd, E*
1934, p. 252.

8.   Lancet, Feb. 15, 1947, p. 275.