Delays in the identification of non-natural mortality

Leonard B. Lerer, Chen Kugel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rapid and accurate identification of non-natural deaths is an important component of a good forensic service. To study the identification process and quantify delays in the identification of non-natural deaths in Cape Town, South Africa, we conducted a retrospective review of identification rates between 1980 and 1995 and a descriptive study of time to identification stratified by manner and cause of death for 1995. The mean yearly number of unidentified cases between 1980 and 1995 was 137 (range, 75-280), constituting about 3% of total admissions. There has been no substantial change in the proportion of unidentified cases during this period. Suicides and homicides were most rapidly identified; 84% of suicides and 75% of homicides identified within 3 days. Pedestrian and railway deaths accounted for 72% of the unidentified accident admissions in 1995. Delays in the identification of various categories of deceased victims of violence and unintentional injury reflect the social impact of poverty and impose an unnecessary hardship on next-of-kin. Forensic pathologists should devote both scientific and administrative efforts to reducing such delays.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-351
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Accidents
  • Homicide
  • Identification
  • Mortality
  • Suicide


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