Forensic Pathology Expert Witnesses
Expertise that makes a difference in wrongful death matters
Forensic pathology is a branch of pathology concerned with determining the cause of death by examination of a corpse. A forensic pathologist is a medical doctor specializing in investigating sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths. They use their medical knowledge and skills to determine if a death resulted from natural causes, an accident, suicide, or homicide.
Forensic pathologists in the United States must complete medical school, an anatomic pathology residency, and a forensic pathology fellowship. The certifying organization for forensic pathologists is the American Board of Pathology.
A forensic pathologist performs postmortem examinations that provide a professional opinion about the injury or disease that led to a person’s death (that is, the cause of death and mechanism of death). Autopsies can also collect trace evidence that may be useful to address other issues raised by the death.
The role of a forensic pathologist as an expert witness
While forensic pathologists are perhaps best known for their work in the criminal justice system, they can also be valuable witnesses in civil wrongful death matters, including fatal injuries in accidents, medical malpractice, and other deaths caused by negligence. A forensic pathologist can review medical records, autopsy reports, and other relevant documents to offer an opinion on:
- The decedent’s cause of death. Unfortunately, some physicians may simply put “cardiac arrest” or “respiratory arrest” as the cause of death, even though those terms merely mean that the patient’s heart stopped beating and that the patient stopped breathing, respectively, which are characteristics of all deaths regardless of cause. An uninformed observer might interpret such a “cause of death” as meaning that the decedent died of a heart attack or suffocation, even if the actual cause was something entirely different. A forensic pathologist can set the record straight.
- The decedent’s mechanism of death, that is, the physiological event that followed from the cause and resulted in death. For example, if the decedent was stabbed to death, the cause of death would be the stab wound, and the mechanism of death would be hemorrhage (blood loss).
- The chain of events that led to the death. A forensic pathologist can offer a professional opinion on which event created a cascade of medical issues that led to death, whether pre-existing conditions or co-morbidities played a role, and whether the chain of events could have been stopped with medical intervention.
- Any conscious pain and suffering that the decedent may have endured during their period of final injury and death. A forensic pathologist can offer powerful testimony such as “he was alive, conscious, and in pain.”
An experienced forensic pathologist can help find the truth
In high-stakes civil litigation, both plaintiff and defense attorneys are looking for the truth – and when the victim is not alive to tell their story, a medical expert who can reconstruct their final moments plays an invaluable role. That’s why having a highly qualified, Board Certified forensic pathologist available for consultation and, if necessary, trial testimony is critical.
Rieback Medical-Legal Consultants has access to highly qualified, experienced forensic pathologists prepared to testify in depositions and at trial. If you are considering a legal case involving wrongful death, contact us today for a free case summary review.