When a person dies due to the negligence or misconduct of another, the surviving members of the victim’s family may sue for the victim’s pain and suffering and for “wrongful death.” A lawsuit for wrongful death in Ohio may only be brought by the personal representative of the victim’s estate and may require an autopsy to establish the legal cause of death. Ohio’s wrongful death statute (ORC Section 2125.01) establishes the procedures for bringing a wrongful death action and who can recover damages caused by the death. In order to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, the death must be caused by the wrongful conduct of another and may be due to medical malpractice or due to an automobile or truck accident.
What Is An Autopsy?
An autopsy is a medical examination by a pathologist that examines the body, both internally and externally, to determine the cause of death, including microscopic examination of certain fluids, tissues and organs. Autopsies can be performed at a hospital and, under certain circumstances, must be performed by the county coroner. The goal of an autopsy is to determine the manner and method of death. In Ohio, the county coroner is required to investigate the circumstances and determine the cause and manner of death if:
- the death is sudden;
- when a person is in apparent good health;
- the death is a result of violence or suspicion;
- the death is unusual or unexplained circumstances;
- the death is a result of a suspected suicide;
- the death involves the death of a developmentally disabled person; or
- if the death involves an incarcerated individual and/or is the result of criminal neglect.
Is An Autopsy Necessary To Prove Wrongful Death?
When we evaluate a wrongful death claim, the cause of death may already be determined and an autopsy may not be necessary or required by Ohio Law. A patient may die in a hospital or nursing home and the coroner’s office may determine there is significant medical history from the hospital or nursing home records, such that the death appears to be from natural causes or there is no evidence of foul play. The coroner will not perform an autopsy simply to establish that the death of a patient was due to medical negligence. Under such circumstances, the family is often faced with deciding whether to authorize the hospital where the patient died to perform an autopsy. The decision to authorize an autopsy at a hospital is a personal decision that involves a number of religious and moral issues that can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
We are often contacted after the traumatic or sudden death of a patient occurs or where the family believes that a doctor or hospital was negligent in the care of a loved one. The issue becomes whether or not the negligent medical care and medical errors that occurred during the treatment of the person can be shown to be the cause of death. Our experienced medical-legal team can help advise whether a wrongful death claim is warranted and what potential damages can be recovered due to the death. The time limits and the types of damages that can be awarded by a jury for a wrongful death are different than those that apply to a claim for pain and suffering.
People interested in learning more about our firm’s legal services, including medical malpractice in Ohio, may ask questions or send us information about a particular case by phone or email. There is no charge for contacting us regarding your inquiry. A member of our medical-legal team will respond within 24 hours.