A wrongful death inquiry was received recently from someone who was told that an autopsy had been done on his relative, who died unexpectedly while in the hospital, and that the death was "not natural".
What did that mean?
From an excellent article, How Autopsies Work, I learned that there are two kinds of autopsies, forensic and clinical. While both determine a cause of death, the forensic type is done as part of a police investigation, [think "CSI"], while the clinical type is done for research or study purposes, for example, follows the course or progression of disease. The forensic autopsy is often necessary for proving a wrongful death case, by determining the manner of death.
Manner of death findings available through a forensic autopsy are that the death was natural, was a homocide, a suicide, an accident, or remains undetermined. These findings are legally defined and admissible in court.
The manner of death is a crucial component of a wrongful death case, as the plaintiff has the burden of proving a wrongful act, neglect or default on the part of a defendant, which caused the death of the decedent.
Had the autopsy mentioned above revealed a "natural" process, such as a disease, the pathologist would have ruled that way. That leaves four possible manners of death while in the hospital: homicide, suicide, accidental or undetermined? We will need to see the official autopsy to learn if the manner of death was determined, and if there may be a viable wrongful death case against a defendant who caused the death.