Understanding the Reality of an Unattended Death

As of 2016, accidents have become the number three cause of death in the United States, according to the National Safety Council. 2016 is the last year in which a full set of reliable statistics is available for accidental deaths in the country. Over 160,000 accidental deaths occur in the United States every year, an average of 442 a day. The National Safety Council maintains that these deaths were all preventable if people were more vigilant in the conduct of their daily lives. (Some would take issue with this broad statement. Nonetheless, a good many accidental deaths certainly were preventable.)

The most common types of accidental deaths in the United States are:

  • Poisoning
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Fires
  • Firearms
  • Suffocation


When someone is asked what the most common type of accidental death is, the likely response is “car accident.” In fact, this is no longer the case.

Beginning in the 1990s, the rate of deaths by poisoning started to increase. In the past decade, the number of people who die every year because of poisoning has skyrocketed. This is largely due to the fact that death by prescription painkillers (opioids) are classified as accidental deaths in most instances.

As of 2018, poisoning has become the number one cause of accidental death in the United States, primarily because of the opioid crisis in the country. In 2016, about 42,000 people in the U.S. died from accidental overdoses of opioids. Poisoning by other substances results in about 9,000 fatalities annually, according to general data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Approximately 37,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents each year on roadways across the United States. These fatalities arise from about 5.2 million motor vehicle accidents in the country annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There are alarming statistics associated with motor vehicle accidents. One of the most shocking stats is that a child is killed in a car accident in the U.S. every three minutes, according to the NHTSA. Driving accidents in the U.S. result in more permanent disabilities than any other type of accident.


Falls represent the third most common type of accidental death in the United States. During the last year, a full set of stats is available, 33,381 people died from accidental falls in the U.S.

Falls represent the most common type of accident experienced by people over the age of 60. Within this cohort, a common injury associated with a fall is a broken hip. Despite significant advances in surgical techniques and practices in recent years, a significant percentage of older Americans never rebound for a fall that results in a broken him. Even after, or perhaps in part because of, hip replacement surgery, these individuals die.

What Is Accidental Suicide?

The term “accidental suicide” may seem like an oxymoron at first blush. Indeed, the term is not widely used. However, there are instances in which an individual dies that fairly can be described as being accidental suicides.

There are two situations in which the term accidental suicide might be applicable:

  • First, there are situations in which a person has the intent of intentionally making a failed suicide attempt. An individual really doesn’t have true suicidal ideations but wants to draw the attention of other people for one reason or another.
  • Second, the term accidental suicide is applied in situations that arise from what technically or medically is known as autoerotic asphyxiation. In this scenario, a person typically ties a noose around his neck. (Men are nearly always the victims of this type of death.) The objective is to heighten sexual pleasure by temporarily cutting off blood supply to the brain. Unfortunately, in about 1,000 cases annually, the individual engaging in this practice ends up dead.

Unattended Accidental Deaths

Every year, thousands of people across the country suffer an accidental death, typically when they are at home alone. These deaths are not immediately discovered, resulting in hazardous and traumatic scenes in these individuals’ homes.

The most common types of unattended accidental deaths in the home are:

  • Falls
  • Suffocation (including choking on food)
  • Poisoning
  • firearms

The decomposition process commences directly upon a person’s death. Thus, with a matter of a couple of days, hazardous pathogens and bacteria release from the body into the area in which unattended accidental death occurred.

A person discovering an unattended accidental death needs to exercise extreme care to avoid infection of contamination from any biohazardous substances which may be present at the scene. Moreover, appropriate precautions, including the use of suitable personal safety equipment, must be utilized in the process of cleaning up after this type of death.