When is an autopsy necessary and when is it legally required? When a loved one dies in a hospital is an autopsy required? Can the attending doctor demand that an autopsy be performed or can he refuse the request of a family member to have an autopsy performed? These and other questions are frequently asked of us as medical malpractice attorneys,when we are contacted when someone dies due to the negligence of others. Ohio Law provides some of the answers that should guide family and healthcare providers when a death occurs. Ohio Revised Code Section 313.12 provides that when someone dies due to criminal or violent means, by casualty, suicide or in any suspicious or unusual manner the coroner shall be notified. The coroner shall perform an autopsy on a child that suddenly dies under the age of two that was in apparent good health, unless the religious beliefs of the parents prohibit an autopsy. If so, the coroner shall determine whether there is a compelling public need to perform the autopsy in which event there is a procedure whereby the parents will have 48 hours to file suit to enjoin the autopsy.
If a person dies due to criminal means an autopsy is usually performed. If a person dies due to unusual circumstances the determination as to whether an autopsy must be performed is less clear. The attending doctor of a person that dies in the hospital due to any suspicious or unusual manner must notify the coroner of the known facts concerning the time, place, manner and circumstances of the death so that it can be determined if the death is a coroner's case. Other deaths are investigated by an autopsy at the hospital after obtaining consent from the family. In medical negligence cases, autopsies are frequently necessary to determine the true cause of death. When there is a refusal on the part of the hospital to perform an autopsy, a family can insist on an autopsy being performed- a so-called private autopsy. The cost of a private autopsy must be paid by the family.
In litigation, the cause of death and the manner and mode in which the death occurred as set forth in the Autopsy is considered to be the legal cause of death and the autopsy can be introduced into evidence without the testimony of the coroner. Unless the cause of death is challenged by competent credible evidence as to a different cause the autopsy findings control.
Recently the law was changed in terms of obtaining expert testimony from the coroner at trial. If the testimony of the coroner is to be offered as an expert the coroner must be paid a fee. There is no fee to meet and consult with the coroner. To challenge the cause of death in an autopsy involves a separate cause of action to have the cause of death changed.
We have been successful in certain cases where the coroner did not have all the necessary information to arrive at the true cause of death. Filing a lawsuit to require the coroner to change the cause of death can be extremely important for life insurance purposes and medical legal claims and requires special procedures to be followed. The cleveland medical malpractice attorneys at Mishkind Law Firm Co. L.P.A. have successfully settled and tried cases where the manner,mode and cause of death was critical to the outcome. Call or visit us at http://www.mishkindlaw.com for more information on this topic.