Does a Wrongful Death Case Require an Autopsy?

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The plaintiff in a wrongful death case has the burden of proof. That means they must prove their case. You may wonder if an autopsy is required for a wrongful death case.

Greenville wrongful death attorney Bobby Jones of Bobby Jones Law explains autopsies in wrongful death claims.

Do You Need an Autopsy to File for Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death case does not necessarily require an autopsy. A legal claim can be filed even if no autopsy has been conducted. However, it may be necessary to have an autopsy done to prove the case.

Understanding Autopsies in Wrongful Death Claims

To win a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove:

  1. The defendant owed the victim a duty of care.
  2. The defendant breached the duty of care by acting negligently or in another unlawful way.
  3. A death occurred.
  4. The death was the result of the defendant’s actions.
  5. If death had not occurred, the victim would have had a valid personal injury claim.

An autopsy may help prove the cause of death. If the cause of death is contested, having an autopsy may greatly help the case.

How do you get an autopsy for a wrongful death case?

In South Carolina, a coroner must investigate and make written findings about a person’s cause of death in many circumstances. Officials may order an autopsy if needed to determine the cause of someone’s death.

It’s common for an autopsy to be ordered when death results from an accident, occurs unexpectedly, or may be a homicide – circumstances that may prompt a wrongful death claim.

Can I have a private autopsy?

Whether or not officials conduct an autopsy at public expense, you may have a private autopsy conducted at your own expense.

Understanding Autopsies in South Carolina

An autopsy is dissection of a body to determine the cause and manner of death. An autopsy may also be called a necropsy or post-mortem examination.

Who decides if there is going to be an autopsy?

In South Carolina, the coroner, medical examiner, or law enforcement may decide to order an autopsy. An autopsy is required if a child dies by violence, suspiciously, usually, or in an unexplained manner. It is also required if a person dies in law enforcement custody. (S.C. Code § 17-5-520, S.C. Code § 17-5-540, S.C. Code § 17-7-10).

Is an autopsy required to file for wrongful death?

No. You may pursue a wrongful death claim without an autopsy. Having an autopsy may be beneficial to prove your case, but it is not required.

What are the criteria for ordering an autopsy?

An autopsy is ordered when it’s necessary to determine a person’s cause of death. Circumstances where an autopsy should be performed include:

  • When a person is found dead
  • Suspected violence or foul play
  • Suicide
  • Person not attended by a physician at the time of death
  • Suspicious or unusual circumstances
  • Death within 24 hours of entering a healthcare facility or having invasive surgery

(S.C. Code § 17-7-10, S.C. Code § 17-5-530).

In addition, if a patient dies in a hospital or healthcare facility that performs invasive surgical procedures, their authorized representative may insist on an autopsy. There may be a charge. (S.C. Code § 44-43-730).

Autopsies in Wrongful Death Claims

Whether to have an autopsy in a wrongful death claim depends on the situation. For example, if death occurs immediately following a car accident, the cause of death may not be contested. The defense may contest whether they acted negligently, but they might readily admit that the car accident caused the person’s death.

When there is a possibility that causation could be contested – like an intervening cause or other possible causes of death, an autopsy may be helpful to prove the claim.

In addition, an autopsy may be appropriate when you suspect foul play, but you’re not getting answers from those involved. An example may be medical malpractice, death in a nursing home, or a workplace fatality.

Lawyer for Wrongful Death Involving an Autopsy

It’s important to involve an attorney as early as possible so they can advise you. Bobby Jones Law represents grieving families in wrongful death claims. Contact us now to talk about your situation.

The team at Bobby Jones Law LLC works tirelessly for the injured in South Carolina. His achievements include:
  • More than $60 million collected for our clients
  • Multiple recoveries exceeding $1 million, including an eight-figure settlement
  • Recognized by Best Lawyers in America
  • Named among the “Best Law Firms” by U.S. News & World Report
  • Named to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers
  • Named to Super Lawyers 2017–2024
  • Member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum
  • Selected as Legal Elite of the Upstate 2021–2023
  • Named among Super Lawyers "Rising Stars"
We’re humbled to be considered one of the top firms in the Upstate and invite you to learn what sets our award-winning legal services apart. Call or request a consultation online.
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