The autopsy report says death due to natural causes, but is it really what it means?
Importance of an Autopsy Report in a Wrongful Death Case
In a wrongful death case, it is essential to attain the autopsy report because it helps determine whether there was wrongdoing that caused or contributed to the death of your loved one. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in evaluating people who have died, and he is the doctor who will perform the autopsy. Pathologists will conduct a thorough internal examination to determine the cause of death. Many times the language they use in their reports will be ambiguous, and they do that for a number of reasons.
There is a prominent author named Patricia Cornwell who created a character named Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta is a fictional medical examiner (ME) or pathologist if you ever want to learn about what this person does in more detail and be entertained simultaneously.
Death Due to Natural Causes can Mean Many Things
Therefore, when the pathologist writes down, death due to natural causes, it may not be that. Here is the reason why. When a person dies, the doctors are going to put down that the heart stopped, which means there was a cardiac arrest. Alternatively, they might put down that the lungs stopped, which means there was cardiopulmonary arrest. However, the real question is why those major organs stopped working properly.
Was it because of trauma, was it because of an accident, or was it because of a massive infection that was not diagnosed? What were the precise reasons for why those critical organs actually stopped? To understand that, ―you have to evaluate the entire autopsy report―you have to review all the medical reports to determine why your loved one died. Based on these events, when the pathologist automatically puts down, death due to natural causes, it may not be the true reason why the person died.
Protecting their Own
The next reason why a doctor may not accurately put down in clear phrases that another person could have caused this person's death is because typically one doctor does not like to point fingers at another doctor. Especially, when the death has occurred in the same hospital where the autopsy is being performed.
For instance, the death occurred in a particular hospital and they perform the autopsy in the same hospital. So what is the likelihood of the doctor who performs the autopsy actually pointing their fingers at another doctor or doctors in the same hospital? This may be one of the reasons why the language in the autopsy report does not clearly state that the person's death was due to improper medical care that they received in the same hospital.
An Independent Medical Review
Therefore, if you feel, your loved one has died due to some wrongdoing of the hospital or doctor; you need not give up your wrongful death case just because the autopsy report says death due to natural causes. Of course, this will be a setback, but you can hire a medical expert who can evaluate the autopsy report as a whole, and also look into the medical records of your loved one to figure out the actual cause of death.
What is Liability?
To prove liability in a wrongful death case means to show to the jury who is responsible for the person's untimely and unnatural death. Since the person is already deceased, it can be a challenging task to show what caused the premature death and that that death would not have occurred in the absence of such cause/s.
How to Prove Liability?
One of the key ways of proving liability in a wrongful death lawsuit is through an autopsy. An autopsy is an examination of a person who died, and is performed by a doctor known as a pathologist or a medical examiner. The pathologist will conduct a thorough examination of the body, and he will evaluate lab work to determine exactly why the person died. By understanding why the person died, the lawyer can go back and look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the person's death.
This way the lawyer can determine whether somebody did something wrong and whether there was any carelessness that resulted in the person's death. For instance, did the person die because of failure to recognize, diagnose, and treat the cancer? Was the death the result of a severe car accident? Why did the painter fall off the ladder? Why was a young girl walking a 120 pound pit bull that could easily break lose and be a menace to the community?
The lawyer needs to know what the facts were surrounding the person's death. Once he has this coveted information, and understands the medical records leading up to the person's death, the autopsy will help the lawyer understand exactly why the person died. Many times, the family of a person who has died prematurely is not sure whether to have an autopsy done or not. In such instances, their lawyer will discuss with them the pros and cons of having an autopsy performed.
Pros and Cons of Performing an Autopsy
Just because you do an autopsy, it does not necessarily mean it will help you. The autopsy can definitely assist you only if the findings point to any wrongdoing. However, there are many instances where the autopsy is performed and it leads to the opposite conclusion which is the absence of any wrongdoing. Hence, should you schedule an autopsy to prove liability in wrongful death case? The answer may depend entirely on the circumstances leading to your loved one's death.
It may not be impossible to succeed in proving liability in wrongful death case without an autopsy; however, in most instances it will be very difficult to convince the jury without an autopsy report. Even if your case is strong and the reason for death and wrongdoing seems obvious, the jury may not be fully satisfied that you are more likely right than wrong without an autopsy.
The autopsy report provides definitive proof about the cause of death, which then can be linked to the wrongdoing. In the absence of an autopsy report, there is always the doubt that death could have been caused by some other factors or the wrongdoing might be only partly responsible for the person's death.
Joan Rivers, a popular comedian, recently died after being taken off life support and her family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit. One of the claims made in the lawsuit was pecuniary loss, which is important to understand. Joan's death has unfortunately raised a great deal of awareness since her daughter brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the endoscopy center which caused or apparently contributed to Joan's untimely death.
Yes, this is the same daughter who made a fool out of herself and had an emotional breakdown after being rightfully fired from The Celebrity Apprentice.
What is Pecuniary Loss?
In a wrongful death case, one of the things looked at as an element of damages that a family might be able to recover is what was the financial loss to the family due to their loved one's death? Therefore, pecuniary loss means what was the financial amount that the family has now lost because the person who died is no longer able to provide financial support for the family.
How is it calculated?
Let us look at Joan's case as an example. Joan was 81 years old when she died, she was a world-renowned entertainer and comedian, and she was actively working in her lifelong career when she passed away. Joan also had career commitments she was driving towards. So what would be the pecuniary loss to her family? The money that she would have earned, had she continued to live, would amount to the pecuniary loss.
The Argument of the Defense
The defense will typically argue in such a case that since the person had significant medical problems, her life or life expectancy was clearly shortened. Based on this, she was not going to live for another twenty years or work for those twenty years, instead she might have been able to work for only the next three to five years.
This would be the typical defense's argument, and the family would counter it by saying that there are people like Betty White who continue to live a healthy life and work in their old age. Similarly, other actors and comedians are living much beyond 81 years of age and working successfully in their professions.
In the case of Joan Rivers, there were clearly defined earnings and future commitments made by companies pertaining to contracts they signed with Joan. These can be easily shown and documented to the defense. This will show her earnings and the amount her family lost because of the direct result of improper medical care. Her family can therefore include this as part of the claim they bring seeking damages for the harms and losses that the family suffered. There are other types of pecuniary losses as well, but in Joan's case, this was the main one.
Therefore, if you have lost a family member due to improper medical care or carelessness of a doctor, you could file a wrongful death case to claim damages. One of the elements of these damages is pecuniary loss, which is the financial loss you will be suffering because the departed family member is now unable to provide for the family.
Some of the saddest kinds of accidents and those that are most difficult deal with are also painful reminders that many businesses and local governments need stricter rules and regulations about the operation of vehicles and heavy machinery.
The Gothamist reported February on a chilling case where a pregnant woman was killed by a snowplow in a Brooklyn supermarket parking lot. The details around this horrific event are hard to read about, and hard to hear about. They remind us of the importance of safety protocols around those common seasonal activities involved in public maintenance, tasks like plowing snow, sweeping streets and paving roads. They remind us that these kinds of activities are not inherently, automatically “safe” and that a lot of local work goes into keeping communities protected from awful types of accidents, making sure that the chances of a serious injury or fatality are minimized in a particular area.
One of the most telling details reported by the Gothamist in this story was that the driver of the vehicle in question was previously seen operating that vehicle in an erratic manner. The report points out that although there were no prior charges, there may have been behavior that went unpunished before the vehicle operator was finally apprehended for taking a life. This is the type of story that often gets the most attention from a public readership, but more subtle and less extreme cases can also provide important warning signs on how lax safety may be around a given type of local danger, whether it’s related to road projects, regular public maintenance, local service infrastructure, or any other type of public system. New York City wrongful death attorneys will look at these kind of details very carefully when putting together a wrongful death case for a client. Although this is an extreme example of municipal and local business responsibility, not all cases are as clear-cut, and unraveling the details of a personal injury or wrongful death case could take a lot of work. Various state and local New York laws may apply to one of these cases brought within the five boroughs. New York City wrongful death attorneys will use knowledge of any local statutes in New York, and restrictions or limitations on this type of litigation, to give clients the best chance of getting the settlements they need to handle the injury or death of a family member. Having qualified legal representation can make all of the differences in cases that require extensive documentation within certain guidelines, in order to be brought effectively.
New York City residents can get qualified legal assistance from the New York City wrongful death attorneys at Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff. Call us to start asking about how to put together a personal injury or wrongful death case, and what your options are under the law. We work with you every step of the way to secure an equitable result for your family.