Fatal blunt chest trauma: an evaluation of rib fracture patterns and age

Int J Legal Med. 2022 Sep;136(5):1351-1357. doi: 10.1007/s00414-022-02866-2. Epub 2022 Jul 14.


The following study was undertaken to determine if any specific occupant characteristics, crash factors, or associated injuries identified at autopsy could predict the occurrence or number of fractured ribs in adults. Data were accrued from the Traffic Accident Reporting System (TARS) and coronial autopsy reports from Forensic Science SA, Adelaide, South Australia, from January 2000 to December 2020. A total of 1475 motor vehicle fatalities were recorded in TARS between January 2000 and December 2020, and 1082 coronial autopsy reports were identified that corresponded to TARS fatal crash data. After applying exclusion criteria involving missing data, 874 cases were included in the analysis. Of the 874 cases, 685 cases had one or more rib fractures. The leading cause of death for those with rib fractures was multiple trauma (54%), followed by head injury (17%) and chest injuries (10%). The strongest predictor of one or more rib fractures was increasing age (p < 0.001). Other factors found in the regression to be predictive of the number of rib fractures were the presence of a variety of other injuries including thoracic spinal fracture, lower right extremity fracture, splenic injury, liver injury, pelvic fracture, aortic injury, lung laceration, and hemothorax. Age is most likely associated with increasing rib fractures due to reduced tolerance to chest deflection with greater injuries occurring at lower magnitudes of impact. The association of other injuries with rib fractures may be a marker of higher impact severity crashes.

Keywords: Age; Fatal vehicle crashes; Forensic; Injury; Rib fractures.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Multiple Trauma* / complications
  • Rib Fractures* / etiology
  • Thoracic Injuries*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating* / complications