Intentional burn injury: an evidence-based, clinical and forensic review

Burns. 2004 Nov;30(7):628-42. doi: 10.1016/j.burns.2004.03.019.


Burn injury can be inflicted intentionally either by one person to another whenever one has the ability to physically control the other, or it can be self-inflicted. There is scant evidential basis for much that is written about and practiced in the evaluation and care of patients that have sustained intentional burn injuries. Yet this is an area in which medical personnel must necessarily be trained in both the therapeutic and forensic aspects of a complex problem. Failure to appreciate the complexity of medical and forensic interactions may have far reaching effects. A missed diagnosis can result in inappropriate medical care, on-going abuse and future fatality. Inept management can result on the one hand, in blame levelled inappropriately placing incomparable strain on family units and innocent parties, and on the other, allow abusers to continue unchecked. This is the first review on the subject in which lawyers and doctors collaborate to produce a holistic approach to this subject. In it we describe the legal considerations that medical staff must appreciate when approaching patients who may have suffered intentional burns. We analyse the various scenarios in which intentional burning can be found and challenge the clinical dogma with much of the management of paediatric inflicted burns has become imbued. We suggest a rational and balanced approach to all intentional burn injuries-especially when children are involved. In the light of current case law in which dogmatic medical evidence has been implicated in wrongful convictions for child abuse in the UK, it is imperative that medical professionals gather evidence carefully and completely and apply it with logic and impartiality. This paper will aid clinicians who may not be experienced in dealing with burn injuries, but find themselves in the position of seeing a burn acutely, to avoid common mistakes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Burns / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Elder Abuse / diagnosis
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Forensic Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Forensic Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / diagnosis*
  • United Kingdom