Is There a Scientific Basis for Interpreting Bruises?
Can you pinpoint the age of a bruise? Child abuse “experts” have debated this very thing for many years. Now, there may be a way to find out with accuracy. According to the Arizona Daily Star, a group of engineering students at the University of Arizona have created a prototype device designed to scan a bruise and decide its age.
With enough data collected by examining bruises from witnessed events with bruises of known ages, this new technology may well take much of the guesswork out of dating bruises. Why is this important? Because the current method is really just that: guesswork.
Child abuse pediatricians and other medical professionals are often called upon to give their professional opinions about bruises in cases of suspected child abuse. The color of the bruise is often used to date it. But the consensus so far has been that there is no scientific basis for determining the age based on color. A 1995 article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “visual aging of bruises remains an inexact science. . .” A more concise explanation might be that visual aging of bruises in not science at all.
There are a number of factors often used to decide the age of a bruise. Factors like:
· Location in reference to other injuries. For example, if a bruise is in the soft tissue and in the same place as a fracture, it may be possible to date the fracture (within a range) and then surmise that the two injuries occurred as a result of the same event.
· Correlation with other symptoms. Even without a fracture, if a child shows up at a hospital or doctor’s office with several injuries that all look acute (recent), it is likely that the conclusion will be that the date of the various injuries is the same.
· Stages of development. It is generally assumed that bruises with different appearances are different ages.
· Pattern bruising. Doctors and investigators are often able to discern a recognizable pattern of a bruise. For example, if a bruise looks like a hand print or a spatula, it probably is from a hand or a spatula. The same is true with a bruise from a belt or a chord. Pattern bruises virtually tell a story all by themselves.
· Correlation with patient history. This is extremely important, especially in cases where the bruising is not in a recognizable pattern. With every injury, doctors are going to question the history of events. And they are going to form opinions about whether that history adequately explains the injury. Parents should keep in mind that they are immediately suspect if the history they give does not explain the injuries.
· Color Changes. While you can’t accurately age a particular bruise based on color, the color itself may give some insight into whether a bruise is older or newer.
· Medical issues. There are many known medical conditions which can result in easier bruising. Usually, this is some type of bleeding or coagulation disorder. If a child bruises easily, that does not necessarily disprove abuse. But it does mean you have to consider the amount of force or severity of trauma that would be needed to cause the bruise. This may require a medical work up by a competent expert. It usually starts with a review of the existing medical records and the assistance of a medical expert could cost a lot of money.
· Things that look like bruises. Although rare, we have seen cases where parents get accused of abuse with infants who have birth marks or Mongolian spots. These cases are usually resolved without any extensive litigation.
· Bruising in infants. Any bruise on an infant is going to be seriously examined for the possibility of child abuse. The thought is that the child did not injure herself and that the parents or other adults should be able to explain what happened.
If there is an accidental cause that explains an injury, the parents should be able to clearly describe what happened without variance in the story. A consistent and sensible history eases a lot of concern if there is a child abuse investigation. This is especially true when doctors need to rely on their assessment of bruises (as opposed to other injuries) because medical science is not up to the task.
If your child has a bruise and you find yourself under scrutiny for suspected child abuse, don’t wait. Contact a parent defense lawyer right away. Look for an attorney familiar with the current science on bruising in children. Your parental rights may well be at stake.