Collecting Evidence for a Case: Suspected Wrongful Death and Requesting an Autopsy

One of the most challenging moments in life is when a loved one dies unexpectedly and under circumstances that raise legitimate questions. Take for example the case of an older gentleman who undergoes relatively routine surgery and is duly discharged from the hospital. He unexpectedly dies within a day of returning home. Understandably, the man’s children have serious concerns that some sort of mistake in surgery or other mishap at the hospital may be the underlying cause of the man’s death. The family reaches out to the coroner seeking an autopsy and found themselves facing unexpected hurdles. In fact, there are strategies people need to have general knowledge of to address the need for an autopsy in this type of situation.

Approaching the County Coroner for Assistance

In the aftermath of a death of this nature, when loved ones have questions about how and why the person died, a natural response is to reach out to the county coroner. In the case outlined a moment ago, the family of the man who died at home a day after routine surgery did contact the medical examiner in the county where their deceased father lived. The coroner advised that no autopsy would be performed by the medical examiner’s own volition. The coroner did advise that it would perform an autopsy if the family paid $5,000 to have the procedure undertaken.

A California county coroner or medical examiner is required to perform an autopsy in certain circumstances that include:

  • Suspicion of foul play
  • Infant death
  • Inmate death
  • Suspicion of infectious or contagious disease

In the case of the a man who died within 24 hours of returning home from the hospital, none of these circumstances were at issue.

The Need for an Autopsy When Wrongful Death Is Suspected

Wrongful death is a legal term that encompasses a number of different types of situations in which a person dies because of the negligence or intentional conduct of someone else. Examples of wrongful deaths include:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Accidents of different types
  • Medical malpractice

The family mentioned in the case study earlier might have a desire to pursue a medical malpractice claim if they discover that their father was provided improper care. While the age of the deceased man plays a role in the amount of compensation that might ultimately be available in the case, because he was a person in his Golden Years doesn’t preclude his family from pursuing a wrongful death case. In order to pursue such a cause of action or claim, an autopsy is imperative.

A family understandably may not have $5,000 available to pay the county coroner for private autopsy services. However, that is not the only option.

Hospitals and Autopsy Services

In the case of the family mentioned previously, seeking an autopsy at the hospital where the man was cared for before his unexpected death is not a logical choice. With that said, there are some hospitals in California that will perform an autopsy when requested by the family of a person who dies while being cared for or treated at the hospital, in some cases for no cost to the loved ones. Other medical centers may provide autopsy services at a cost less than what is charged by the county coroner.

Private Autopsy Services

Appreciating the limitations in regard to autopsy services provided by country coroners and hospitals, there are private autopsy services in business in Southern California, elsewhere in the state, and across the country. These firms do charge a fee for services. They tend to be cognizant of what the coroner charges for this type of assistance and attempt to charge at least somewhat less than the prevailing medical examiner private autopsy fee in the area.

Retain Legal Counsel

Needless to say, a person facing the unexpected death of a family member which might be linked to medial care has a great deal on his or her mind and to address. Hiring a lawyer may not be on the radar immediately. Understanding this reality, engaging a personal injury – wrongful death lawyer may be a wise course, not only to protect legal interests but to obtain a needed autopsy.

A typical California personal injury – wrongful death attorney only charges a fee if successful in pursuing an insurance claim or lawsuit on behalf of a client. A majority of these attorneys also “front” or pay for any expenses associated with the case, including something like a necessary autopsy. If a settlement or judgment is obtained, those expenses will be reimbursed from those funds. However, if the case doesn’t result in compensation, the law firm typically “eats” these expenses and costs.

Time Is of the Essence

Time truly is of the essence when it comes to scheduling an autopsy. This type of forensic examination should occur as soon after death as possible.

You also face the need to properly place the remains in a suitable environment after death and until an autopsy can be performed. A recommended course is to reach out to the funeral home that is to provide preparation and other services. Explain the situation to the staff and ask if arrangements can be made for the remains to be transported to the funeral home and placed in their refrigeration room until the autopsy is performed. In most cases, a funeral home will work with loved ones to accommodate such a situation.