We reviewed 116 patients, known to have talked before dying after head injury, to discover factors which had contributed to death but which might have been avoided. All the patients were admitted to a neurosurgical unit and had a neuropathological post-mortem examination. One or more avoidable factors were identified in 86 patients (74%); an avoidable factor was judged certainly to have contributed to death in 63 patients (54%). The most common avoidable factor was delay in the treatment of an intracranial haematoma; others included poorly controlled epilepsy, meningitis, hypoxia, and hypotension. Changes in the management of patients with head injuries which reduce the incidence of avoidable factors should decrease mortality from this condition.