Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Poison Definition:

Substances that are so inherently dangerous that no reasonable person under normal circumstances would ingest them.

The 2nd Edition of Stroud's Judicial Dictionary (1903) included these words to define poison:

"A poison is defined to be that which, when administered, is injurious to health or life. And surely that must be the test."

In 1948, Justice Goodrich of the Circuit Court of Appeals used these words in Watkins v. National Electric Products Corporation:

"Poison may be defined as any substance which, where introduced into the system either directly or by absorption produces violent, morbid, or fatal changes, or which destroys living tissue with which it comes in contact....

"Poison (is) any agent which, introduced into an organism, may chemically produce an injurious or deadly effect.

"When we turn to judicial use for the word we find the same broad meaning carried through which emphasizes the introduction of the poisonous substance into the body and the resulting harm."

Benign substances such as water could cause serious harm or even death if consumed in quantity. As the Virginian court mused in U.S. Mutual Assoctaion v. Newman:

"One could say a person drowned was poisoned."

Thus, defining poison has been a challenge in the law as noted by Justice Rapoza in Commonwealth v. Walker when he wrote:

"Poison is a broad term that denotes a wide variety of substances. Most commonly viewed as poison are those substances that are so inherently dangerous that no reasonable person under normal circumstances would ingest them....

"We recognize however, that there are substances that may have beneficial uses, but when used improperly, may have the capacity to act as a poison."

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