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Lichtenberg Figures: How a Cutaneous Sign Can Solve Suspicious Death Cases

Published:October 07, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wem.2022.07.008
      Lightning is a natural weather phenomenon that occurs most commonly during the summer months in the afternoon or early evening. Lightning strikes can cause accidental deaths. In developed countries, lightning fatalities occur almost exclusively outdoors. Deaths from lightning may be in remote places with no witnesses. Forensic pathologists may not be able to reach the scene of death because it is too hazardous or inaccessible. Bodies may have neither evidence of skin burns nor torn areas on their clothes. The presumption of accidental death may be difficult to prove. We present 3 cases in which neither the examination of the death scene nor the examination of the bodies by those who attested to the death were performed. The bodies were transported to the morgue for a forensic autopsy because the deaths were considered suspicious. Physicians who attest to death in open spaces during weather that could produce lightning should actively search for Lichtenberg figures, which are considered irrefutable proof of fatal lightning in such settings. They should also photograph them and submit them as evidence. Nevertheless, physicians should keep in mind that Lichtenberg figures are not considered pathognomonic of lightning because some skin manifestations may mimic them.

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