Cardiopulmonary resuscitation-related injuries and homicidal blunt abdominal trauma in children

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2000 Dec;21(4):307-10. doi: 10.1097/00000433-200012000-00001.


Defendants accused of inflicting fatal abdominal injuries to children occasionally raise the defense that the injuries were caused by cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The purpose of this study is to answer the question: Does closed chest CPR result in fatal blunt abdominal injuries that can be mistaken for homicidal assault? To that end, a retrospective study was conducted of all homicidal blunt abdominal injuries in children 10 years and younger from the Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Medical Examiner's Offices from 1981 through 1997. These were compared to cases of children who died of natural causes during the same time period in Broward County who had CPR (control group 1) and to children who died of nonvehicular accidental blunt abdominal trauma (control group 2). Children with life-threatening head injuries were excluded. Medical examiner records, autopsy reports, documenting photographs, and clinical records were reviewed. The data analyzed included subject demographics, whether CPR was performed and by whom, and autopsy findings. Thirty-three child homicides with fatal abdominal injuries were reviewed. Twenty-four (73%) of the homicides received CPR. There was no difference in the nature and severity of injuries between the 24 children who received CPR and the 9 who did not. Three hundred and twenty-four cases of pediatric natural deaths were reviewed, all of which had CPR. No traumatic abdominal injuries were found in any of the children who died of natural causes. Only four children who died of natural causes had evidence of extraabdominal trauma related to CPR. No cases of nonvehicular accidental blunt abdominal trauma were identified during the 17-year period, although there were nonvehicular accidental fatalities due to extraabdominal injuries. The likelihood of CPR-related primary abdominal trauma in child homicides is very low.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / etiology*
  • Abdominal Injuries / mortality
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / adverse effects*
  • Cause of Death*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Homicide*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / etiology*