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  • $15 Million Manhattan - Medical Malpractice Case
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New York City Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Can You Bring a Wrongful Death Case in New York without having an Autopsy Done

By Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, LLP. posted in Medical Malpractice on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Suppose someone in your family is dead and you believe his death was because of someone else's carelessness. It could be the doctor treating your family member was careless, or the other driver who caused the auto accident was careless.

Suppose someone in your family is dead and you believe his death was because of someone else's carelessness. It could be the doctor treating your family member was careless, or the other driver who caused the auto accident was careless.

Hence, the important question is what was the cause of death or why did the person die. The only true way to know the answer to this question is to do an autopsy. An autopsy is a clinical examination of the person who died, which tries to evaluate the precise cause of death. This procedure is typically done by a medical examiner, who is a doctor known as a pathologist.

Autopsy is not Always Possible

However, some religions prohibit or prevent people from having autopsies. In such an instance, how does one determine the cause of death? In all likelihood, the precise cause of death may never be known in such circumstances. Many clients come into the lawyer's office armed with the death certificate of their loved one, believing that the certificate reveals the cause of death.

For example, the death certificate will mention cardiac arrest as the cause of death. However, all that means is that the person's heart stopped, and that is all. It does not deduce why the heart stopped.

Autopsy Results can Go Either Way

Even though the autopsy is important, it can yield a double-edged sword. This means the autopsy can show that your loved one died unrelated to any carelessness. In such instance, you are going to have a very challenging time, to bring a lawsuit for wrongful death, claiming that the carelessness of the doctor or hospital caused the death of your family member.

On the other hand, the autopsy can reveal not only that somebody was careless, but also reveal other contributing factors such as cancer that nobody had detected. The person's life expectancy would have been very short with the cancer, but it did contribute towards his premature death.

You can File a Lawsuit without Autopsy

Hence, an autopsy can be very useful to determine the precise cause of death. So, going back to the original question: can you bring a wrongful death lawsuit if the autopsy was not done? The answer is yes. However, it will be challenging to prove the cause of death for determining negligence, without performing an autopsy. Yet it is still legally possible to go ahead and submit a lawsuit for wrongful death without performing an autopsy.

The plaintiff's lawyer will have a much more challenging task of establishing wrongful death, since the autopsy is missing, which would have established the exact cause of death. Depending on the cause revealed by the autopsy it is easier to deduce whether somebody was careless or negligent.

However, without an autopsy, the lawyer will have to look into the medical records, investigate the treatment given or the procedure that was done, and the effects it had on the person. The lawyer will have to take a roundabout approach and he will have to establish violation of standards of medical care from the medical records, and prove that such violation had caused the death of the person or victim.

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