How well can you trust the coroner’s report about cause of death?

On Behalf of | Nov 13, 2019 | Wrongful Death

Your loved one just died rather suddenly at the hospital. The sudden change in his or her condition and the abrupt death rings wrong in your mind, but you aren’t sure if someone made a serious mistake that led to your loved one’s death or not.

So, you wait on the coroner’s report to let you know what happened, trusting that medical expert to come to some conclusion about whether or not your loved one’s ending was preventable.

The only problem? The coroner may be relying on secondhand information to prepare the autopsy report. Your loved one may never have a real autopsy — even if that’s the only way that you can hope to hold someone accountable for his or her wrongful death. For example, an Ohio coroner admitted in 2017 that he “regularly” relied on whatever information he was given from the local procurement company for his autopsy reports — a fact that left him unable to determine a cause of death in at least one case.

Federal mandates require hospitals to notify “procurement companies” whenever someone dies. These are the companies that harvest human tissue from the recently deceased. Even if your loved one never signed a donor card, you will likely be asked — in your worst moments of grief — whether or not you will consent to have his or her body parts harvested for transplants and other purposes. If you agree, the procurement company can move ahead.

Here’s the problem: Procurement teams don’t necessarily include anybody who has training in forensic medicine — like the coroner does. There are also no standardized training methods on the issue for procurement teams, either, so it’s really the “luck of the draw” whether or not anybody on the team knows how to gather and preserve the evidence that might be critical to a wrongful death claim.

If you suspect that your loved one’s death may have been preventable, talk to a wrongful death attorney before you make any decisions about how to handle the deceased’s body.