The forensic pathologist is perhaps the most crucial witness in obtaining evidence when suing a Florida hospital or doctor for causing the wrongful death of a patient. Forensic pathologists are medical doctors that are trained to figure out how and why a person died.

Not surprisingly, there is a current shortage and a huge demand for forensic pathologists in the United States. Although the U.S. currently has over 130 medical schools, only 37 are accredited to train forensic pathology. Currently, 45 states have accredited medical schools yet only 27 provide a direct path for medical students wishing to become pathologists. Medical schools that have accreditation for pathology are poorly funded; the result is that only 30-40 doctors get Board Certification in forensic pathology a year.

According to the Scientific Working Group for Medico-legal Death Investigation, the lack of doctors, medical school programs and funding account for the low national autopsy rate of only 8.5%. The problem is most felt in rural areas that do not have the tax base to justify funding a full-time pathologist. It also means that many hospitals have abandoned the use of hospital autopsies. Hospital autopsies have long been relied upon to assess the quality of medical care as well as the evaluation of adverse outcomes. The situation is made worse by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) which is an “independent, not for profit organization” that accredits and certifies more than 19,000 medical providers, hospitals, organizations and programs in the United States.

Currently the JCAHO requires hospitals to maintain a minimum autopsy rate of 20%. Tragically, that means the majority of families baffled by an unexpected or unexplained death of a loved one at a Florida hospital must do their own expensive investigation, including paying for a private autopsy. It also means that many Florida hospitals and doctors are never held accountable for the accidental death of patients. Even worse, hospitals are not learning from their mistakes which would otherwise serve to improve the quality of medical care for us all.

As a Miami hospital injury lawyer, I believe that medical insurance should contribute to the cost of autopsies for patients who die under suspicious circumstances. It is in their best interest to improve the quality of medical care.

In Florida, a private autopsy can cost thousands of dollars. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner charges $5,000 per case for a private autopsy. This does not include laboratory testing, transportation, or storage of the body. Florida Statutes §406.11 places certain types of death under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner, such as: criminal violence; accident; suicide; or when a patient dies in apparent good health and is unattended by a practicing physician; or other recognized practitioner.

Our Florida hospital death and injury lawyers are experienced helping families investigate the sudden and untimely death of patients. Obtaining an autopsy by a qualified pathologist is very often the most important piece of evidence in establishing the cause of death.

If you suspect that a loved one has died as a result of a Florida doctor or hospital error, we urge you to immediately consult with the medical examiner or coroner in your jurisdiction before having the body embalmed or buried. Often, embalming can affect the accuracy of an autopsy because internal organs can get punctured in the process.

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