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Child abuse or accident?

At first look it may be hard to stomach. Even with a child sized test dummy.

Dr. Gina Bertocci

"The primary research question we're trying to tackle is being able to delineate the difference between child abuse and accidents."

But with every test Dr. Gina Bertocci and her engineering team run they hope to learn a little more.

Bertocci adds

"We try to apply principles and techniques to determine what really happens in those household falls—what types of injuries might you expect to those who encounter those falls."

The University of Louisvile team measures and records every detail, then simulates it again on a computer. They then share their findings with colleagues in medicine—the doctors who see potential child abuse cases everyday.

Dr. Mary Clyde Pierce is a professor of pediatrics at U of L.

Dr. Mary Clyde Pierce

"By collaborating with people who have engineering expertise we address the problem from a totally different angle, in the clinical world it makes for a more scientific conclusion."

Bertocci again

"It allows us to develop a knowledge base so that clinicians can understand what to expect in those cases."

Bertocci says one of the challenges is building criteria that can be applied when children are in the ER to help determine whether it's abuse or an accident.

Bertocci finishes

"We're looking at different fall heights—from a bed, a changing table, and we look at different impact surfaces—wood floor, concrete. We're able to mock those in our lab and determine what effects they have on injury outcome."

Bertocci says their work has been used in certain court cases. Pierce says they're looking for objective ways to tell the difference, adding it should never be a doctor's job to guess about child abuse.

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