James G. Wigmore, Forensic Toxicologist, Speaker, Author

Personal injury accidents, often referred to as slips and falls, resulting from the over consumption of alcohol is a much overlooked but equally prevalent issue as drinking and driving.  Personal injury and civil lawyers need to be well informed about the impact of alcohol consumption on the severity of personal injury.

Alcohol is a major risk factor for accidental slips and falls (WOA60503) and, contrary to urban myth, the consumption of alcohol does not mitigate the severity of these slips and falls.  Since retiring from the Centre of Forensic Sciences, I have been involved in several civil cases in which the injured slip/trip/fall victim was suing the property owner where the accident occurred. Interestingly enough, these victims were found to have had a high BAC.  [NOTE :The hospital serum alcohol results usually reported as ETHANOL or ETOH in mmol/L can be converted into a BAC of g/100mL by multiplying by approximately 0.004].   As this is such an important issue for personal injury lawyers and coroner’s investigations, I have devoted a whole section in my book – Wigmore on Alcohol – on the subject of slips and falls.

The relative risk (RR) of accidental personal injury increases with increasing BAC, as is shown in the table below (WOA60502).

There are numerous reasons why alcohol consumption is a risk factor for accidental slips and falls:

  • Increases body sway and postural imbalance (WOA60501, WOA60506)

  • Impairs visual tracking for guiding stepping (WOA60507)

  • Impairs ability to assess risky or dangerous situations

  • Potentiates orthostatic hypotension (WOA60508)

  • Causes a slower and less appropriate reaction (WOA60503-5)

  • Increases drowsiness (WOA60510)

The slower and less appropriate reactions to a fall causes a greater incidence of craniofacial injuries and a greater severity of injury as the protective response of extending out-outstretched hands to break the fall are inhibited by alcohol.  This results in a lower incidence of limb injury but a greater force being transmitted to the head when it strikes the ground in intoxicated pedestrians (WOA60504).

As professionals in the scientific community, it behooves us to “share the knowledge” and attempt to dispel yet another urban myth – that drunk pedestrians suffer less injury when they fall because they are “relaxed”.  We know this to be in error.