Is an autopsy required in a wrongful death claim?
A wrongful death claim helps families restore their financial independence after a catastrophic accident. However, because wrongful death lawsuits often involve high-stakes negotiations, securing a fair settlement could prove challenging. While some insurance companies and defense attorneys may demand that a family order an autopsy before continuing negotiations, these procedures—while sometimes helpful—are rarely necessary.
Tennessee’s Wrongful Death Statutes
Under Tennessee state law, someone may file a wrongful death lawsuit if a person or fetus has died from “injuries received from another” person or party’s negligent act.
A wrongful death lawsuit may be the solution to recover damages from any of the following occurrences:
However, the Tennessee Annotated Code only permits certain classes of persons to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Under most circumstances, if the deceased party has a surviving spouse, that individual has the right to file.
If this individual declines to initiate proceedings, or if a decedent doesn’t have a legal partner, then other close relatives and associates—such as the decedent’s children, next-of-kin, or estate executor—may open a claim.
The Role of Autopsies in Wrongful Death Claims
The Tennessee Annotated Code doesn’t necessarily require an autopsy as a condition of filing or litigation a wrongful death claim. However, the state’s criminal code mandates the procedure if the deceased person’s death could be reasonably attributed to any of the following:
- Abuse or neglect
- Employment-related accidents
- Suspicious circumstances
- Unknown causes
But an autopsy—also sometimes called a necropsy—may not be necessary if these circumstances didn’t cause the victim’s death. Nevertheless, a Tennessee county medical examiner’s report could provide the basis for a compelling wrongful death claim, especially if the at-fault person or party refuses to admit liability for the accident.
The Different Types of Autopsies
Usually, autopsies establish the cause and manner of death. However, they’re performed for various reasons and follow different protocols based on intent. Here are some of the most common types of autopsies in wrongful death claims:
- Forensic. These are usually performed privately by a county medical examiner or private forensic pathologist. The goal is to establish the circumstances and causes of a deceased person’s death.
- Clinical. This type of autopsy may be ordered for medical reasons, especially if a physician or loved one has concerns about an exact cause of death, an underlying health condition, or any potential problems during a surgery or other procedure.
- Second. Often used as a follow-up examination, a second autopsy may be necessary if the results of an initial autopsy were inconclusive, or if another opinion is needed to establish the cause and manner of death.
If an autopsy is required by law, the county medical examiner or coroner conducts the examination using public funds. The family isn’t billed, and won’t be asked to reimburse the government for its expenses.
However, suppose an autopsy isn’t ordered but is deemed necessary for a wrongful death investigation. In that case, the plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim may be responsible for paying the pathologist’s professional fees. These fees frequently cost thousands of dollars.
Defending a Loved One’s Legacy
If a wrongful death can be reasonably attributed to third-party misconduct or negligence, the decedent’s surviving spouse, close living relatives, or estate executor could file a lawsuit. An experienced Tennessee wrongful death attorney will help you prepare for litigation by taking the following steps:
- Investigate the causes and circumstances of the accident.
- Collect, preserve, and analyze accident-related evidence.
- Determine whether an autopsy is necessary and discuss examination options with the family.
- Negotiate with an insurance company.
- Prepare to take a claim to trial if and when the at-fault party is unwilling to admit liability.
If your attorney believes you have a viable claim, they’ll also calculate your damages. Economic and non-economic damages often include reimbursement for paid expenses, as well as compensation for anticipated losses.
Unlike some states, Tennessee doesn’t typically limit the compensation available in most wrongful death claims. So your family may receive damages for the following:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- The deceased person’s outstanding medical debt
- Reimbursement of autopsy fees
- Lost income, including the wages or salary that the deceased person would likely have earned if they had not died
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of domestic services, guidance, and society
Under state law, all wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within a specific time period. A court could automatically dismiss claims filed late or otherwise outside the Tennessee statute of limitations.
Were You Injured in a Tennessee Premises Liability Accident?
When you’re trying to heal after such a devastating loss, the complications of a wrongful death lawsuit can be overwhelming. Put your trust into an experienced legal team that will help your family recover. Weir & Kestner Injury Attorneys offer compassionate, knowledgeable guidance and focus on providing the best possible representation to victims of negligent acts.
Contact us online or call our office directly at 615.220.4180 to schedule your free consultation. We’ll arrange a time to meet with you at one of our offices in Smyrna, Nashville, Murfreesboro or Chattanooga—whichever location is most convenient for you.
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