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Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2011 Mar;469(3):768-75. doi: 10.1007/s11999-010-1564-5.

Child abuse and the legal system: the orthopaedic surgeon's role in diagnosis.

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  • 1University of Chicago, 5841 S Maryland Avenue, MC3079, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.



Orthopaedic surgeons have unique training and experience in diagnosis of fractures, both accidental and nonaccidental. That experience is valuable in identifying physical child abuse and in avoiding false accusations or convictions. Both aspects are important to the welfare of children and their families. The events that follow a report of child abuse are outside the training and experience of most orthopaedic surgeons.


What process follows a report of suspected child abuse? What unexpected outcomes or results occur in this process? Are medical conclusions used in this process consistent with the state of our knowledge?


The child abuse legal process is described as experienced by one orthopaedic surgeon. Examples of unexpected problems that occurred in cases that went to trial are described.


Inappropriate outcomes can result from incomplete or incorrectly applied information. The input of the orthopaedic surgeon is often needed to provide the best information available to ensure that the best interests of the child and the family are protected. Working within a hospital team is the preferred method, but direct courtroom testimony is sometimes necessary.

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