Free Consultation (800) 272-4080
Call Now (800) 272-4080

Should I Have an Autopsy Performed If I Believe an Error was Made by a Healthcare Provider that Resulted in Death?

June 28, 2021

Yes, an autopsy should be performed where there’s any question about a possible mistake by a doctor or hospital that may have contributed to your loved one’s death.

What is an Autopsy?

An autopsy, also called a postmortem medical examination, is performed to help determine the cause and manner of death.

An autopsy frequently is requested or ordered if the cause of death is unclear or suspect. For example, an autopsy may be performed when the deceased died unexpectedly, under unusual circumstances, or when the decedent was young.

An autopsy may help answer questions for a grieving family and may determine bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit. This may help a family determine causation—that is whether there is a connection to an injury that caused the death.

Family members should consider an autopsy especially when the death happens outside the hospital or clinical setting, such as after discharge from the healthcare facility. An autopsy should is also suggested in a hospital setting when a loved one’s death is unexpected or unusual.

How Is An Autopsy Performed?

An autopsy is frequently performed by a medical examiner. However, in some situations, a request for an autopsy is refused, and a family may have to hire a qualified, private forensic pathologist.

An autopsy usually begins with an external examination of the body, then may turn to the examination of a single organ. Some involved an extensive and comprehensive examination, including examination of the chest, abdomen, and brain.

When Is An Autopsy Performed?

Autopsies have become less frequent in recent years. The number of autopsies has dropped in the U.S. More than half of patients who died in a hospital received an autopsy 40 years ago. Now, it’s less than 5%.

The primary factor for this precipitous decline is that physicians and surgeons are reluctant to order an autopsy because they believe it will reveal evidence that can be introduced in a wrongful death medical malpractice claim that shows they were responsible for the death. An autopsy can provide compelling evidence that proves malpractice. Without an autopsy, many medical malpractice lawsuits are unsuccessful because the plaintiff could not provide enough evidence for the jury to find negligence, even when it’s widely suspected that the doctor or surgeon made a mistake.

Nonetheless, research demonstrates that in 20% to 40% of autopsied patients, evidence showed there were major, treatable conditions that were not clinically diagnosed by the healthcare providers but were detected in the autopsy. This is significant evidence that a patient may have died due to medical negligence, such as a failure to timely and appropriately diagnose and treat a treatable medical condition that would have saved the patient’s life. Such evidence may not have been discovered by the family of a deceased if an autopsy hadn’t been done.

In contrast, an autopsy may confirm that the cause of death was not due to medical negligence. Further, the autopsy may show an undiagnosed condition that resulted in the patient’s death that wasn’t caused by medical negligence. In both of these circumstances, an autopsy may help the surviving family cope with their loved one’s death because they have definite answers as to what really happened and that the death wasn’t preventable or a medical mistake.


An autopsy is a comprehensive examination of the deceased by a physician. The doctor who performs the examination is a pathologist who tries to determine the exact cause of death.

Family members with questions about a loved one’s cause of death should be certain to get an autopsy. Ascertaining a definitive cause of death is crucial in successfully proving medical malpractice.

Contact Us

An autopsy may be required in a successful Michigan medical malpractice claim and it is best when conducted with 24 hours of death. Because of this, you should work with an experienced and skilled Michigan medical malpractice attorney who has requested and expedited autopsies in previous medical malpractice cases.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to the negligence of a physician, surgeon, nurse, clinic, or hospital, you should speak with a medical malpractice attorney at Buchanan Firm. For a free consultation, contact us.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or wherever it’s convenient for you and your family.