Four Things You Should Know About Autopsies and Wrongful Death Claims
Especially in cases of medical malpractice, an autopsy may be necessary to determine the exact cause of a patient’s death. Autopsies can provide important evidence for a legal case where the defendant in a wrongful death claim challenges the cause of death.
Autopsies May Identify Medical MalpracticeIn a wrongful death claim where medical malpractice may have contributed to a patient's death, the family of the deceased must show evidence that their loved one died because of professional negligence. For example, if a patient dies from a ruptured spleen and an autopsy reveals that the surgeon was operating on the wrong side of the torso and punctured the spleen, the family may have grounds to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor. In cases where a medication error may have caused a patient's death, a toxicology report may determine the types of medications and chemical levels in the body at the time of death. A patient may have his or her cause of death listed as cardiac arrest, but an overdose of certain medications could have led to the death, rather than natural causes. Toxicology reports may indicate whether a doctor administered an improper medication, a wrong dose, or if the patient suffered an allergic reaction.
Doctors May Be Reluctant to Suggest an AutopsyIf a doctor has reason to believe that his or her conduct or that of the hospital was to blame for a patient's death, the doctor may avoid asking the family if they would like an autopsy. Only the next of kin can approve a post-mortem examination and a negligent doctor may fear that the results will reveal misconduct or negligence. If you suspect your loved one died by negligence, the surviving spouse, child, sibling or parent of the deceased may be able to request an autopsy. Most hospitals will do it on site, but if you believe you will have a medical malpractice case to bring forth, you may wish to request that a private pathologist unassociated with the hospital or medical group performs the examination and produces the report.
Autopsy Results May Be Valuable to a Wrongful Death ClaimIn personal injury cases where a victim succumbs to his or her injuries from an accident, the family may file a wrongful death claim. If the victim lived long enough for the family to file a personal injury claim and later passed on, the defendant in the claim may try to blame the death on an existing condition or natural causes, rather than the accident. For example, if a car accident victim lives for several weeks following the accident and later passes away, the defendant may argue that the cause of death was unrelated to the accident. However, an autopsy may reveal that in fact the cause of death was related to trauma sustained in the accident, and not a condition acquired afterward. Likewise, if the defendant in the accident case claims the deceased driver was drunk and caused the accident, a toxicology report can determine whether or not alcohol or illegal substances were present in the deceased's bloodstream during the fatal accident.