Do I Need an Autopsy for a Medical Malpractice Death Lawsuit?

Posted on

Losing a loved one is tragic at any time in life, especially if their death was unexpected. Whether your loved one was going in for a planned medical procedure or they were receiving emergency medical care, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and other medical professionals can make a mistake that caused your loved one’s death. 

Although it might seem unthinkable, medical malpractice is actually the third leading cause of death in the United States. After losing a loved one, your world is shaken, and you may not know where to turn and whether you should request or demand an autopsy. This is just one of many tough decisions you will face in a short time.

The Purpose of Autopsies in Wrongful Death Actions

Autopsies are routine procedures used to determine or further solidify an estimation of someone’s death. Doctors and medical professionals want an autopsy on a patient who dies in their care to prove that the patient had some underlying issue that caused their death. In other words, doctors want to use an autopsy to eliminate their own liability. 

However, autopsies can also lead to proof that a doctor made a mistake that did, in fact, cause a patient’s death. As a result of this trend, many hospitals no longer conduct routine autopsies if the cause of death is assumed. Many hospitals or medical examiners conduct autopsies only when the cause of death is completely unknown.

Of course, any family who loses a loved one wants to know with absolute certainty why their loved one died. Autopsies are a great way to know for sure but, ultimately, it will not bring the loved one back. And that is what makes the question of whether to conduct an autopsy when medical malpractice is suspected so difficult.

Whether to Have an Autopsy

In many cases, the medical records, medical professional’s statements, and any recordings will sufficiently show that a medical professional made a mistake that resulted in a patient’s death. Other times, it is not so clear. In these latter cases, it may be reasonable to have an autopsy performed to determine whether medical malpractice may have caused your loved one’s death.

Answering this question for your specific case will depend on how clear it is, through medical evidence, that your loved one died because of medical malpractice. If it is not clear, you may want an autopsy. However, an autopsy is not inexpensive, and it may not provide enough evidence to prove medical malpractice.

Consider the following example. Your loved one is taken to the hospital for breathing issues. After evaluation, it is determined they had a heart attack and surgery is needed. The surgery goes well and your loved one is recovering nicely, but then, on the third day, they suddenly die. 

It might appear that they had another heart attack. Or maybe they had another, unknown, medical issue. Either way, medical malpractice does not appear to be a factor. Your family decides to have an autopsy to know for sure what caused your loved one’s death, and the autopsy uncovers a medical device left in your loved one’s body after the surgery. If this device damaged internal organs, it may be the cause of your loved one’s death and could be clear evidence of medical malpractice.

What to Do if You Suspect Medical Malpractice

If you have reason to believe that your loved one’s untimely death was the result of medical malpractice, you need to act quickly. If the doctor, hospital, or other medical professional does not readily admit that a mistake was made, you should consider an autopsy. Autopsies are best when completed within one day of death.

It is best to avoid having an autopsy performed at the hospital where your loved one died. Although you expect every medical professional to act with the utmost honesty and transparency, using a state or county medical examiner or private autopsy provider would be a better idea. It is possible that a medical professional performing an autopsy at the hospital where your loved one died would attempt to cover up any wrongdoing by a colleague or the facility.

A state or county medical examiner will be able to note the cause of death with objective certainty. However, they may not investigate whether the death was preventable or caused by a medical mistake. 

A private autopsy, however, could be the right option. A private, independent autopsy could confirm your suspicions about not only the cause of death, but also whether your loved one’s death was a direct result of a medical mistake. Further, an independent autopsy can describe what the medical malpractice was, how it occurred, and the expert may even be able to testify about their findings. 

Because your legal team must prove that a medical professional committed medical malpractice and that act was the direct cause of your loved one’s death, having a trusted provider conduct an autopsy may be the answer you are looking for. Ultimately, the decision whether to have an autopsy performed is a very personal one. But it may be able to shed light on how your loved one died and whether their death was preventable.

Wrongful Death Claims

If an autopsy uncovers medical malpractice, you may have a valid wrongful death claim against the doctor, nurse, hospital facility, or other medical professional. Knowing how your loved one died may bring you peace of mind. However, it will not help you with the financial burden you may face after their death.

When you lose a loved one, you could be responsible for their final medical expenses, as insurance may not cover them. Depending on the medical procedures used in an attempt to save your loved one’s life, that could be extremely expensive. To combat this, you may need to file a wrongful death claim alleging medical malpractice. 

Filing a lawsuit after losing a loved one may be the last thing on your mind. That is understandable. But it may be the only way for you to collect compensation from the person responsible for your loved one’s death. You may be able to collect compensation for:

  • Final medical expenses
  • Burial costs
  • Funeral costs
  • Lost financial support
  • Loss of consortium

Although no amount of money will bring your loved one back or undo the suffering you and your family have had to endure, it will help you cover the expenses associated with your loved one’s death. And that is important because you need to spend time with your family and grieve your collective loss. If you have to worry about covering massive medical bills, you will be unable to truly grieve the loss you have had to endure.

Besides getting compensation for medical expenses, you may also be able to get money to cover your lost financial support. If your loved one was the breadwinner of the family, you may be able to collect additional compensation to cover their estimated earnings over the rest of their expected life span. This is important to help you continue living the life you would have been able to live had your loved one not been the victim of medical malpractice. 

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Clients Deal with the Death of a Loved one

Losing a loved one is one of the most traumatic life experiences. Especially when unexpected, a sudden loss can turn your world upside down. You may not know where to turn and may not even be thinking clearly. To help you understand what you need to do next, whether to get an autopsy, and how to hold the negligent medical professional liable, speak with the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.