Alcohol the key finding in single-punch deaths

January 23rd 2014

A study of Australian deaths reported to the coroner has found 90 deaths caused by “king hit” or single-punch assaults, of which the majority involved the use of alcohol.

Dr Jennifer Pilgrim

Dr Jennifer Pilgrim

The study, conducted by Dr Jennifer Pilgrim, Dr Dimitri Gerostamoulos and Professor Olaf Drummer from Monash University’s Department of Forensic Medicine and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, aimed to investigate the involvement of alcohol and other drugs in single-punch deaths. The findings negate claims by liquor lobbyists who maintain that these violent assaults involve drugs with alcohol.

Most single-punch deaths involved young males and occurred at a hotel or pub on a Friday or Saturday night. Alcohol concentrations in these victims were on average up to 4 times the legal driving limit.

Although we usually associate alcohol with the aggressive offender, this study showed that alcohol intoxication also increases the risk of becoming a victim of a “king hit” assault.

Tragic cases of fatal “king hits” including Thomas Kelly, Cameron Lowe and, most recently, Daniel Christie, have raised awareness of alcohol-fuelled violence in the Australian community and prompted immediate action from the government to address issues surrounding liquor licensing and availability, and mandatory sentencing for one-punch assaults.

The NSW Premier has since announced sweeping changes to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney, which include CBD lockout zones, a freeze on new liquor licenses, the statewide closure of bottle shops at 10pm and mandatory minimum sentencing for one-punch assaults involving alcohol and drugs. There is pressure for Victoria to do the same.

These findings were presented by Dr Pilgrim at the Forensic and Clinical Toxicology Association (FACTA) in Sydney in December 2013 and have been published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

Dr Pilgrim has also authored opinion pieces for The Guardian Australia and Monash University, as well as appearing on The Project (Network TEN) (17/01/2014).


Dr Jennifer Pilgrim is a Research Fellow in the Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash University.