When you have lost a loved one, requesting an autopsy is probably not the first thing on your mind. However, if you have any concern that medical malpractice or negligence played a part in your family member’s death, an autopsy can make a world of difference in a wrongful death lawsuit.
An autopsy is a post-mortem examination of the body that helps a pathologist determine the person’s cause of death. The pathologist can conduct a comprehensive physical examination, required tests and microscopic evaluation of cells and tissues to see if they reveal any answers about the manner and cause of death.
Typically, the county coroner will determine whether an autopsy is required, following Pennsylvania laws and statutes that outline the circumstances in which an autopsy must be performed. Unfortunately, in more cases than not, an autopsy is not ordered. However, the deceased person's family members can request that an autopsy be performed.
While you don’t need an autopsy to file a wrongful death case, it’s challenging to get to the bottom of what really happened without an autopsy. It is a critical procedure because it may help prove what occurred to cause the death. Someone who is injured in a car accident, for example, may sustain injuries at the time of the crash, but not die for weeks or months. An autopsy would help prove if the death was caused by trauma from the collision, rather than a condition the person developed later.
An autopsy is also important because it contains far more information than a death certificate. While a death certificate may indicate that someone died of cardiac arrest, an autopsy may be able to help a pathologist determine that there was an undiagnosed heart condition, like a blocked coronary artery, that caused the arrest. If a doctor failed to diagnose that condition when they should have, it may be a case of medical negligence that would have gone undiscovered with only a death certificate.
In Pennsylvania, it’s the responsibility of a coroner to order an autopsy when someone dies. There are several situations in which an autopsy is required (when there is a sudden or suspicious death, for example), but in many cases, one is not ordered or performed.
If the coroner doesn’t order an autopsy for your loved one because the situation doesn’t meet the criteria for it to be required, you can request that one be performed. The law in Pennsylvania grants the coroner the discretion and authority to perform an autopsy when a family member of the deceased requests it. However, in the event that the coroner turns down your request, you can arrange to have a private autopsy performed by a forensic pathologist of your choosing.
Working with a forensic pathologist for a private autopsy can be costly, usually between $3,000 and $6,000, but it is highly recommended if you believe that your loved one’s death happened as a result of medical negligence or malpractice. You can usually find a forensic pathologist by asking your funeral director.
When you lose a family member, you aren’t likely thinking about whether there was negligence involved. It may not even occur to you that medical malpractice is a possibility until later. The best way to determine whether your situation is a case of wrongful death is to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who will evaluate your case and advise you how to proceed. You may have more legal options that you think and may be entitled to recover compensation that will ease the financial burden of your loved one’s death.
At Ross Feller Casey, our attorneys are knowledgeable, compassionate, and ready to assist you with a free case evaluation. We have medical doctors on staff who can determine if and when medical negligence occurred. Our team has a history of winning wrongful death cases for our clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and beyond, recovering compensation for hurting families.
If you have lost a family member and suspect that their death was caused by medical malpractice, contact the office of Ross Feller Casey to get the guidance you need. All cases are handled on a contingency basis, so you won’t pay anything until your case is won or settled. Please call to speak to one of our wrongful death attorneys today.
Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.