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The Need for an Autopsy in Medical Negligence Cases

Posted on Wednesday, August 12, 2015    

If you have lost a loved one and suspect that their death was the result of medical negligence, an autopsy is crucial to prosecuting a lawsuit on the Estate’s behalf.

We have all heard the phrase, “burden of proof.”  This means that the person or entity that brings a lawsuit (the “Plaintiff”) has the duty of proving the facts in dispute on an issue raised between the parties in the cause of action.  In a civil lawsuit, the Plaintiff must prove the elements of their case by a “preponderance of the evidence.”  This means by the greater weight of the evidence.  Cause of death is one of the most important issues.  Proving cause of death is so critical that I can often exclude a wrongful death case by evaluating this one issue alone.

The Plaintiff must prove what caused their loved one’s death.  Based on the medical records, it is often difficult to be sure of the cause of death.  Although there will be a Death Certificate stating a cause of death, it is often vague and filled out by the coroner without detailed information.  It will often be challenged by the defense if there was no autopsy.

If no autopsy was performed, and cause of death becomes a controverted issue, one option is exhumation.  This is quite expensive.  The embalming and the passage of time can destroy critical evidence.  Complicating the issue, more and more people are choosing cremation leaving it impossible to establish cause of death at a later time.

If you suspect your loved one died due to medical negligence, or if the cause of death is unclear, request an autopsy.  It may be the difference between holding the negligent party accountable or not.