Toilet-related injuries and deaths

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A toilet with the potentially dangerous arrangement of the seat being up

There are many toilet-related injuries and some toilet-related deaths throughout history and in urban legends.


In young boys, one of the most common causes of genital injury is when the toilet seat falls down while they are standing at the toilet.[1] Smaller children run the risk of drowning if they fall headfirst into the toilet. Injuries to adults include bruised buttocks, tail bones, and dislocated hips from unsuspectingly sitting on the toilet bowl rim because the seat is up or loose. Injuries can also be caused by pinching due to splits in plastic seats or by splinters from wooden seats, or if the toilet itself collapses under the weight of the user. Older high flush cast iron cisterns have been known to detach from the wall when the chain is pulled to flush, causing injuries to the user. The 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health was awarded to three physicians from the Glasgow Western Infirmary for a 1993 case report on wounds sustained to the buttocks due to collapsing toilets.[2] Furthermore, injuries are frequently sustained by people who stand on toilet seats to reach a height, and slip. There are also instances of people slipping on a wet bathroom floor or from a bath and concussing themselves on the fixture. In 2012, 2.3 million toilets in the United States, and about 9,400 in Canada, were recalled due to faulty pressure-assist flush mechanisms which put users at risk of the fixture exploding.[3]

Injuries caused by animals[edit]

There are also injuries caused by animals. Some black widow spiders like to spin their web below the toilet seat because insects abound in and around it. Therefore, several persons have been bitten while using a toilet, particularly an outhouse toilet. Although there is immediate pain at the bite site, these bites are rarely fatal.[4]

It has also been reported that in some cases rats crawl up through toilet soil pipes and emerge in the toilet bowl, so that toilet users may be at risk of being bitten by a rat.[5]

Drop in blood pressure and dangerous Valsalva maneuvers[edit]

Some instances of toilet-related deaths are attributed to the drop in blood pressure due to the parasympathetic nervous system during bowel movements. This effect may be magnified by existing circulatory issues. It is further possible that people succumb on the toilet to chronic constipation, because the Valsalva maneuver is often dangerously used to aid in the expulsion of feces from the rectum during a bowel movement. According to Sharon Mantik Lewis, Margaret McLean Heitkemper and Shannon Ruff Dirksen, the “Valsalva maneuver … occurs during straining to pass a hardened stool”. “If defecation is suppressed over long periods, problems can occur, such as constipation or stool impaction. Defecation can be facilitated by the Valsalva maneuver. This maneuver involves contraction of the chest muscles on a closed glottis with simultaneous contraction of the abdominal muscles.”[6] This means that people can die while "straining at stool." In chapter 8 of their Abdominal Emergencies, David Cline and Latha Stead wrote that "autopsy studies continue to reveal missed bowel obstruction as an unexpected cause of death".[7]

Historical deaths[edit]

In 1945, the German submarine U-1206 was sunk after the toilet malfunctioned, and a crewman's botched repair forced them to the surface.[8]

King Wenceslaus III of Bohemia was murdered with a spear while sitting in the garderobe on August 4, 1306.[9]

George II of Great Britain died on the toilet on October 25, 1760 from an aortic dissection. According to Horace Walpole's memoirs, King George "rose as usual at six, and drank his chocolate; for all his actions were invariably methodic. A quarter after seven he went into a little closet. His German valet de chambre in waiting heard a noise, and running in, found the King dead on the floor." In falling he had cut his face.[10]

Possible occurrences[edit]

  • Edmund II of England died of natural causes on November 30, 1016, though some report that he was stabbed in the bowels while attending the outhouse. Similarly, Uesugi Kenshin, a warlord in Japan, died on April 19, 1578, with some reports stating that he was assassinated on the toilet.[11]
  • Lenny Bruce died of a heroin overdose on August 3, 1966 while sitting on the toilet, with his arm tied off.[12]
  • Air Canada Flight 797 was destroyed on June 2, 1983 with 23 fatalities after an in-flight fire began in or around the rear lavatory. Investigators could not determine the cause or exact point of origin for the fire.[13]
  • Michael Anderson Godwin, a convicted murderer in South Carolina who had his sentence reduced from death by the electric chair, sat on the metal toilet in his cell while fixing his television. When he bit one of the wires, the resultant electric shock killed him. Another convicted murderer, Laurence Baker in Pittsburgh, was electrocuted while listening to the television on home-made earphones while sitting on a metal toilet.[14]
  • A collision between a disabled Cessna 182 and a row of portable toilets on May 2, 2009 at Thun Field (south-east of Tacoma), despite an engine failure at 150 feet (46 m) altitude, ended without fatalities; the toilets "kind of cushioned things" for the 67-year-old pilot.[15]
  • British businessman and Conservative politician Christopher Shale was found dead in a portable toilet at the Glastonbury Festival on June 26, 2011. It is suspected he died of a heart attack.[16]
  • Aboard ship the head and fittings associated with the head are cited as one of the most common reason for the sinking of tens of thousands of boats of all types and sizes.[17] Heads typically have through-hull fittings located below the water line to draw flush water and eliminate waste. Boats are sunk when fittings fail or the toilet back siphons.[18] How many have died as a result of the failure of a head is unknown.

Urban legends[edit]

Many urban legends have been reported regarding the dangers of using a toilet in a variety of situations. Several of them have been shown to be questionable. These include some cases of the presence of venomous spiders[19] (primarily due to the Australian redback spider's reputation for hiding under toilet seats[20]). In large cities like New York City, sewer rats often have mythical status regarding size and ferocity, resulting in tales involving the rodents crawling up sewer pipes to attack an unwitting occupant. Of late, stories about terrorists booby trapping the seat to castrate their targets have begun appearing.[21]

An urban legend with many variations recounts an "exploding" toilet. These scenarios typically include a flammable substance either accidentally or deliberately being introduced into the toilet water, and a lit match or cigarette igniting and exploding the toilet. In CSI a toilet was blown up by filling the bowl and blocking the pipe with dry ice. When the dry ice sublimated, the newly frozen water stopped the vapours from escaping, causing it to blow up.[citation needed] In the movie Holiday on the Buses, a toilet is blown up when a lit cigarette is thrown into the pan, which is filled with petrol; the characters had tried to flush it away, not realising it is not as dense as water.

Other common stories relate to the use of a vacuum in the toilets of airplanes.[22]

Popular culture[edit]

Injuries and deaths related to toilets have been portrayed in film and other media on many occasions. These appear across many genres, from comedy to action movies:

  • Slim Newton's comic 1972 country song "The Redback on the Toilet Seat" tells the story of a man who gets bitten by a venomous redback spider while using the toilet, and ends up in hospital, "a sad and sorry plight."
  • In the 1985 film Back to the Future, Doc Brown comes up with the idea of the flux capacitor (which is what makes time travel possible) after slipping from his toilet while attempting to hang his clock and then bumping his head. The idea comes to him in a vision he has after being knocked out.
  • In Alan Moore's 1986-1987 graphic novel Watchmen, Rorschach kills a prison attacker by breaking his cell's toilet and electrifying the pool of water once his assailant steps into it.
  • In the 1987 film Street Trash, a character dies while sitting on a toilet in a junkyard after drinking "Viper", a cheap alcohol that causes him (and others in the film) to melt or explode after consumption.
  • In the 1991 film Nothing But Trouble, the character of Miss Purdah dies while sitting on the toilet in the outhouse, which falls into a fiery hole caused by an underground coal fire.
  • In the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Harry Lyme (Joe Pesci) has his head lit on fire, then attempts to put out the flames by sticking his head in a toilet bowl, unaware that it is filled with paint thinner.
  • In the 1993 film Jurassic Park, Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) is eaten by a T-rex whilst sitting on a toilet in a collapsed bathroom block: "When you gotta go, you gotta go".
  • In the 1994 Kevin Smith film Clerks, a man dies from a heart attack while masturbating on the toilet in a convenience store.
  • In the 1994 film Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, bathroom breaks punctuate chapters of the film: Mia Marcellus (Uma Thurman) overdoses on heroin, a diner is robbed, and, in his final ill-fated trip to the toilet, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is shot with his own gun which Vincent left carelessly on a kitchen counter while waiting in the home of a man he was sent to kill (Bruce Willis).
  • In the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, James Bond attacks a Soviet soldier on a toilet after saying, "Beg your pardon; forgot to knock" while infiltrating a chemical weapons facility.
  • In the 1998 BBC comedy series Big Train, an intergalactic tyrant (who looks like Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon) suffers the indignity of being in a British public hospital after slipping on the mat around the toilet. A "get well card" from the people of the planet Zordon is not enough to raise his spirits.
  • In the 2000 novel A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin, Tyrion Lannister kills his father Tywin Lannister with a crossbow while Tywin is sitting on a privy.
  • In the pilot episode of the 2000-2005 comedy-drama series Dead Like Me, the main protagonist Georgia's life is cut short when a toilet seat from the Mir space station drives her into the pavement.[23]
  • In the 2001 Sopranos episode "He is Risen", the character Gigi Cestone, a young man, has a heart attack on the toilet of his social club while straining himself to defecate after a particularly large Thanksgiving dinner.
  • In the 2003 film The Italian Job, the character Left Ear (Mos Def)'s nickname is attributed to a childhood prank involving cherry bombs in a toilet at his middle school.
  • In the 2004 film Soul Plane, a character sues the airline after being sucked into the toilet during a flight.
  • In the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode "The Weatherman", Larry David urinates sitting down in order not to turn the light on when he gets up to use the toilet at night. However, he injures himself one night after his wife, Cheryl David (played by Cheryl Hines), forgets to put the seat down.
  • In This is England '86, the character of Meggy (played by Perry Benson), had a heart attack while on the toilet. The character survived, but later died off screen in '87 and did not appear in This Is England '88.
  • In a 2012 episode of South Park called "Reverse Cowgirl", a character named Clyde Donovan left the toilet seat up and his mother was killed after falling in and flushing the toilet, which sucked out all her organs.[24]

Linked to external factors[edit]

Toilets have been shown as a location for incidents and have caused problems in other ways:

  • In the One Foot in the Grave episode "Endgame", Victor Meldrew puts a lit match down the toilet, which catches fire because Margaret had been using turps to clean the bowl.
  • In Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film Pulp Fiction, bad things happen to John Travolta's character, Vincent, every time he uses the toilet. To wit: Mia Wallace snorts and overdoses on heroin while he is in the toilet; Butch returns to his apartment to retrieve his father's watch, and shoots Vincent (who was waiting for him) when he emerges from the bathroom; Pumpkin and Honey Bunny begin their robbery of the diner while Vincent is in the restroom.
  • In the 1999 film Boondock Saints, Connor MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery) is handcuffed to a toilet by Russian mobsters. His brother Murphy (Norman Reedus) is kidnapped by the same men and taken to the alley beside their apartment to be shot. Connor rips the toilet from the floor and walks to the top of the building, just in time to drop the toilet on the head of one henchman and jump on the other, knocking himself unconscious, while Murphy beats the mobster to death with the tank lid of the toilet.
  • In the 1989 film Lethal Weapon 2, Danny Glover's character is almost killed when sitting on a toilet that is rigged to explode when he gets up off the seat.
  • In the 2003 film Big Fish, a character dies of a heart attack while reading Playboy on the toilet.
  • In the X-Files episode War of the Coprophages, a man is apparently attacked and killed by cockroaches while using the toilet, though Dana Scully suggests he may in fact have suffered from an aneurysm while straining.
  • In book three of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords, Tywin Lannister is killed by his son whilst sitting on the privy.
  • In the short film Rollover Training FA Style, two American soldiers knock over a portable toilet while one of their comrades unknowingly sits inside. The film, produced by a US Army unit deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and distributed over the internet, parodies military instructional materials.
  • In Eli Roth's 2005 movie Hostel, Paxton hears the voice of the Dutch businessman, follows him to a public restroom and throws the Elite Hunting's card under his stall. When the Dutch businessman reaches down to pick it up, Paxton cuts off two of his fingers, then kills him.
  • In the 2006 film Snakes on a Plane, a man is killed by being bitten on the penis by a snake hiding inside the lavatory. In another scene two youths are killed by a number of snakes, while attempting to have sex in the lavatory.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Genital injury". MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2005-12-20. 
  2. ^ Wyatt JP, McNaughton GW, Tullett WM (December 1993). "The collapse of toilets in Glasgow". Scottish Medical Journal 38 (6): 185. PMID 8146638. 
  3. ^ "Consumer Product Safety Commission News Release: Flushmate Recalls Flushmate® III Pressure-Assisted Flushing System Due to Impact and Laceration Hazards". June 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ See, for instance, Raymond W. Thorp and Weldon Dwight Woodson, Black Widow: America's Most Poisonous Spider (The University of North Carolina Press, 1945), p.65, 156, 188. "Yikes! Black widow spider bites man right were it hurts." Weekly World News, November 7, 1989. James A. Wilkerson, "Black Widow Spider Bites." In Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Activities (2001), p.298.
  5. ^ See Woman on toilet attacked by rat; Rogue rats savage woman on toilet.
  6. ^ See Sharon Mantik Lewis, Margaret McLean Heitkemper, Shannon Ruff Dirksen, eds., Medical-Surgical Nursing: Assessment and Management of Clinical Problems, 6th edition, Volume 2 (2004), p.951.
  7. ^ David Cline and Latha Stead, Abdominal Emergencies (2007), p.56-65
  8. ^ Tony Long (April 14, 2011). "April 14, 1945: Tweaky Toilet Costs Skipper His Sub". Wired. 
  9. ^ Charles Edmund Maurice, The Story of Bohemia from the Earliest Times to the Fall of National Independence in 1620 (1896), p.117
  10. ^ Horace Walpole, Memoires of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George the Second (1822), vol. 2, p. 454.
  11. ^ Jack Seward, Strange But True Stories from Japan (1999), p.231.
  12. ^ Jonathan Goldstein, Lenny Bruce is Dead (2001).
  13. ^ National Transportation Safety Board, Aircraft Accident Report: Air Canada Flight 797 (pdf) p. 59.
  14. ^ Shepherd, Chuck. News of the Weird, Miami New Times. 23 January 1997. Accessed 25 September 2011.
  15. ^ "US plane crash lands on toilets", BBC News, 2 May 2009
  16. ^ Senior Tory Christopher Shale found dead at Glastonbury festival, The Guardian, Sunday 26 June 2011
  17. ^ Pascoe, David, How to keep your boat from sinking
  18. ^ Boat Owners Association of The United States, Why sailboats sink, 2007
  19. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "Toilet Spiders" at Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  20. ^ "Redback Habitat and Life Cycle". Queensland Museum. Retrieved 2005-12-20. 
  21. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "The Salami Slicer" at Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  22. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "Stuck on You" at Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  23. ^ IMDb synopsis
  24. ^ "Reverse Cowgirl", South Park

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