Recent earthquakes such as the Haiti earthquake of 12 January 2010 and the Qinghai earthquake on 14 April 2010 have highlighted the importance of rapid estimation of casualties after the event for humanitarian response. Both of these events resulted in surprisingly high death tolls, casualties and survivors made homeless. In the Mw = 7.0 Haiti earthquake, over 200,000 people perished with more than 300,000 reported injuries and 2 million made homeless. The Mw = 6.9 earthquake in Qinghai resulted in over 2,000 deaths with a further 11,000 people with serious or moderate injuries and 100,000 people have been left homeless in this mountainous region of China. In such events relief efforts can be significantly benefitted by the availability of rapid estimation and mapping of expected casualties. This paper contributes to ongoing global efforts to estimate probable earthquake casualties very rapidly after an earthquake has taken place. The analysis uses the assembled empirical damage and casualty data in the Cambridge Earthquake Impacts Database (CEQID) and explores data by event and across events to test the relationships of building and fatality distributions to the main explanatory variables of building type, building damage level and earthquake intensity. The prototype global casualty estimation model described here uses a semi-empirical approach that estimates damage rates for different classes of buildings present in the local building stock, and then relates fatality rates to the damage rates of each class of buildings. This approach accounts for the effect of the very different types of buildings (by climatic zone, urban or rural location, culture, income level etc), on casualties. The resulting casualty parameters were tested against the overall casualty data from several historical earthquakes in CEQID; a reasonable fit was found.