Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning typically causes so-called cherry-red livor of the skin and viscera. The authors report a case of CO poisoning in which cherry-red livor did not develop. The decedent was a 75-year-old white man who was found dead in his car during a cold winter. Blood CO saturation was 86%. The death was attributed to CO poisoning, and the manner of death was designated suicide. The curious absence of cherry-red livor was studied. The decedent’s tissue and blood specimens were tested at different temperatures. There was no tendency for either type of specimen to develop cherry-red color at cold or warm temperatures. The antemortem response of the skin to cold possibly sequestered CO-saturated blood in the cadaver. As regards the viscera, there are other proteins to which CO can bond, and possibly these proteins contribute to the development of visceral cherry-red livor. In this case, the absence of cherry-red livor could have led to misclassification of the cause and manner of death. The medicolegal and social consequences of such misclassification can be significant, and psychiatric history, which may be useful to surviving family members, could be lost.
From Mercy Medical Center, Cedar Rapids, Iowa (H.J.C.) and Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan (K.E.), U.S.A.
Manuscript received April 13, 2000;
revised December 27, 2000; accepted February 8, 2001.
Address correspondence to Henry J. Carson, M.D., Department of Pathology, Mercy Medical Center, 701 10th Street SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403, U.S.A.