Deadly falls into wells: A retrospective study of 72 autopsy cases from Kairouan, Tunisia

Souheil Mlayeh; Sarra Ben Abderrahim; Firas Haggui; Raja Ghzel; Maher Jedidi

Abstract

Falls are a traumatic event that represents a major public health problem worldwide. The literature is rich in published studies of falls from heights, but only a few articles have focused on falls into wells. The region of Kairouan, in central Tunisia, is characterized by an arid climate, hence the abundance of wells for watering crops. In this study, 72 cases of deadly falls into wells were retrospectively investigated at the Department of Forensic Medicine in Kairouan over eight years (01/01/2008 to 31/12/2015). A male predominance was found (sex ratio of 2.42), with a mean age of 29 ± 16.1 years. Sixty‐five cases (90.3%) were from rural areas, 62.5% had a low level of education, and 50% were unemployed. In our series, the deceased fell from a distance between 3 and 70 meters with an average of 28.3 m. The falls occurred into functional wells in 61.1%, which were filled with water in 51.4%, and were unprotected in 88.9%. Autopsy findings showed bone fractures in 51.4% of cases of which 44.4% were rib fractures. Visceral injuries were identified in 55.6% of cases. The predominant manner of death was suicide (73.2%), and severe polytrauma was the most frequent cause of death (52.8%). This study highlights the need for increased safety measures to keep wells covered and protected in order to prevent these falls.