Verifying the cause of how an individual died– is often crucial in a wrongful death case. A personal injury lawyer will frequently use an autopsy or toxicology report to show how negligence caused this. These reports can also be used to rebut allegations that the victim’s own negligence contributed to their demise. However, this does not mean that the survivors cannot pursue a wrongful death case if no autopsy or toxicology was done.
Our New York and New Jersey wrongful death attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman use their knowledge and experience from many years to recover damages– even if autopsy or toxicology studies are not available. We are skilled and experienced in using other evidence that may be available to eliminate any questions over whether a negligent party’s actions led to the death.
How Are Autopsies and Toxicology Reports Used in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
The utility of an autopsy or toxicology report will vary with the specific facts and the nature of a wrongful death lawsuit. For example:
- Where medical malpractice might have caused the victim’s death, an autopsy can conclusively show their underlying medical conditions. If medical records reveal that a health care provider failed to diagnose a disease or treated them improperly– a wrongful death lawyer will use those results to demonstrate that the provider’s actions were the cause of the victim’s death.
- If someone dies in police custody and law enforcement authorities argue that the victim’s impairment by drugs or alcohol caused their death– then a clean autopsy or toxicology report will readily defeat that argument.
- A negligent party or their insurers will frequently try to reduce the wrongful death damages they are obligated to pay. They argue that the victim’s own negligence contributed to an accident– particularly if the victim was intoxicated or had a separate medical condition that increased susceptibility to injuries.
How Does a Wrongful Death Attorney Prove a Victim’s Cause of Death Without an Autopsy or Toxicology Report?
Every wrongful death lawsuit in New York and New Jersey will involve an analysis of copious amounts of evidence about the accident and the negligent party’s actions. A team of skillful personal injury lawyers will present that evidence in pre-trial settlement negotiations and arguments to a jury. They will do so in a manner that shows a clear connection between those negligent actions and a wrongful death. The evidence that lawyers might use include:
- the accident victim’s medical records
- testimony from witnesses, family members, and friends
- police reports
- arrest records
- expert testimony
- photographs and other public information from an accident scene
The accident victim’s representative or family members should ask their attorney at the beginning of the case—what is the evidence you expect to use to argue for the largest available settlement?
What if an Autopsy or Toxicology Report is Wrong?
Autopsies or toxicology reports might be ordered by coroners, medical examiners, or a victim’s family if there is any question over the cause of death. The pathologists who conduct autopsies and analyze toxicology results are highly-trained professionals, but they are not infallible. When test results are contrary to other evidence, your legal team will carefully examine how those tests were performed. Under certain circumstances, they might also seek to have another pathologist perform a second autopsy.
Negligent parties responsible for someone else’s wrongful death have an incentive to downplay the results of their actions. The largest wrongful damages awards are procured by experienced accident and injury attorneys. They look for biases that might skew the interpretation of autopsies and toxicology tests and use all the evidence in a case to demonstrate the accident victim’s actual cause of death.
Contact us for a free consultation
The attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman represent the families of accident and injury victims in Rockland and Bergen counties and elsewhere in New York and New Jersey. Those victims have suffered a wrongful death due to someone else’s negligence. Please see our website or call our New York or New Jersey offices for a private and confidential consultation with a wrongful death lawyer.