The death of a loved one is devastating for the families left behind, often bringing a seemingly overwhelming flood of grief and emptiness that makes it very difficult to concentrate on anything else. When a loved one dies in a hospital or nursing home setting, hardly anyone thinks about the possibility that their death was preventable in the immediate aftermath of their passing. It is typically only after a loved one has been laid to rest that a family's thinking turns towards the medical treatment that preceded the death. Unfortunately, medical errors have been determined to be the third leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for up to 440,000 deaths in this country every year, and oftentimes an autopsy is the only way to know whether a medical error was involved.
At Bordas & Bordas, we receive many calls from family members of deceased loved ones who have strong suspicions that medical errors were involved, but far often it is too late to determine the nature of one's passing with any precision or provide any meaningful help to the families left behind. Although it is somewhat unnatural to consider in the wake of a loved one's passing, an autopsy is most often the only way to determine the root cause of death, which is a necessary prerequisite to determining whether a medical error was involved.
Even in cases where there is a strong suspicion that a medical error has cost a family member their life, do not assume an autopsy is unnecessary. Autopsy results are among the most important and persuasive forms of evidence in wrongful death litigation, and it is hard to imagine a wrongful death case in which an attorney would prefer not to have autopsy findings available to present to a jury.
In many instances, the hospital will not discuss an autopsy with the family of the deceased, and requests for such discussions can often be met with resistance. Therefore, it is important to be persistent when you have a reasonable suspicion that a loved one may have died from a medical error.
Also consider going outside the hospital in which a loved one has passed to retain an independent, third-party forensic pathologist to perform the autopsy. Oftentimes an autopsy by a third-party costs significantly less than the amount the hospital charges and can circumvent any potential conflicts of interest.
If you suspect that your loved one's death may be the result of a medical error, you should contact an experienced law firm right away to help guide you through that very difficult time.