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Is An Autopsy Required In a Wrongful Death Case in Pennsylvania?

Posted on September 30, 2022

Autopsies are not legally required in Pennsylvania wrongful death cases. However, they are almost always critical to proving that another party is responsible for a loved one’s death. 

When an Autopsy is Necessary in a Wrongful Death Case

When an Autopsy is Necessary in a Wrongful Death Case

Depending on the circumstances, it may not always be apparent that another party caused the death of your loved one. If the alleged at-fault party denies liability, an autopsy report may be necessary since it can prove why the person passed away from a medical and scientific standpoint. Although having an autopsy performed is a highly emotional decision for the surviving family, it can be the evidence needed to directly link the victim’s death to the defendant (at-fault party). 

The report will include information such as the factors that contributed to the person’s death, a summary of the medical care preceding the death, a description of tissue samples examined under a microscope, a detailed examination of the body, and photographs. As a result, this visual evidence may remove any doubt that the defendant’s actions did not contribute to or cause the death. Therefore, an autopsy can dramatically increase the chances of holding the defendant accountable. 

Who Pays for the Autopsy? 

The coroner or medical examiner will typically order an autopsy when they believe negligence or intentional harm played a role in the victim’s death. In these cases, the surviving family does not have to pay for the autopsy. On the other hand, if the autopsy is not ordered, you may have to pay for a private one out-of-pocket if you or your family believes another party is responsible. The fee can range from $2,000 to $5,000. 

You may be able to find a hospital affiliated with a medical school or a research facility that will perform one for free. However, you will likely have to consent to the autopsy being used as an educational tool or for medical research as well. Alternatively, if you hire a wrongful death lawyer, they will often cover the cost and wait for reimbursement until you recover compensation through a settlement or award. 

What Happens After the Autopsy? 

An official autopsy report may take weeks or months to complete depending on the types of tests or screenings that must be done. For example, a toxicology test alone can take days, weeks, or months, often depending on how many specimens need to be tested and whether they require further testing in specialized laboratories. Once the autopsy is complete, the medical examiner’s office will send a copy to the deceased’s next of kin. The report will either confirm or contradict your loved one’s cause of death on their death certificate. If the findings establish that the death was caused by another party, your family can proceed with funeral plans, and the representative of the deceased’s estate will have grounds to file a wrongful death claim. 

For help determining whether an autopsy would be in your own family’s legal interests, please reach out to a dedicated Philadelphia Wrongful Death Attorney today.