A death certificate may be an important part of your wrongful death claim as a means of proving the cause of death. This document is part of the evidence that can prove negligence in a case of wrongful death, but it's not always accurate or automatically obtained.
How to Obtain a Wrongful Death Certificate in New York
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issues death certificates for anyone who died in New York City, including all five boroughs. For deaths that occur anywhere else in the state of New York, the New York State Department of Health will issue the certificate. Only certain people or authorities have the ability to order a death certificate. Immediate family of the deceased (spouse, children, parents, or siblings), or a person who has a documented medical need or documented lawful right or claim for the certificate may also request a copy. A New York State court order may also be used to obtain a copy of a death certificate. When requesting a death certificate form you must provide a valid photo ID and two documents with proof of your name and address. If you are claiming a lawful right to a benefit, you must also provide an official letter from the agency verifying that the certificate is necessary to claim your benefit as a non-immediate relative.
Types of Death Certificates
There are two types of death certificates: a short certificate and a complete certificate. The short certificate merely states that the person is deceased and includes the time and place (city, state) of death. A complete certificate will include the cause of death as listed by the attending physician or coroner. Refer to the instructions for the department from which you're ordering to get the appropriate certificate. For example, in NYC, you must submit your application in person or by mail to get a complete certificate. In a wrongful death case, the cause of death may be extremely important as evidence for your case, so your attorney may advise you order at least one copy of the complete certificate. In some cases, the cause of death will not be immediately available and the section will be marked "pending further study," meaning the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is still determining the cause of death.
Verifying Death Certificate Accuracy
While mistakes on death certificates are rare, they do happen, so it is important to review every detail of the certificate once you receive it. In cases of suspected medical malpractice, if your loved one died in the hospital, his or her attending physician will issue cause of death and sign the certificate. If the physician attempts to cover up a case of malpractice, the cause of death may be falsified. You should obtain the death certificate immediately to determine if the cause of death is plausible and accurate. If you suspect your loved one's death was attributed to malpractice, you may need to request an autopsy or investigation before the body is cremated or embalmed and buried.
Ordering Out-of-State Death Certificates
If your loved one died in another state or country, you will have to contact the local or state Department of Health or other government department that handles vital records to request information about obtaining a death certificate.