Many Marylanders, and even experienced personal injury lawyers, are unclear of the law and policies regarding autopsies in Maryland. Below are the most frequently asked questions surrounding autopsies in Maryland: 


What is an autopsy? 

An autopsy is a series of tests and examinations performed on the body and its internal organs to determine the presence of an injury and/or to identify any disease that may have caused or contributed to the death of a person where the cause is not apparent. Additionally, special tests are performed to check for the presence of infectious diseases, alcohol and/or drugs. 


Why are autopsies performed? 

In Maryland, a death certificate must be completed by a doctor for all deaths before the body can be sent to the funeral home. When the person has a family doctor and dies from natural causes, the doctor can complete the death certificate and an autopsy may be unnecessary. However, if the person is not under the care of a physician or the death appears to be unusual or suspicious in nature or State law requires it, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner must be notified to begin an investigation and determine the cause of death so that the death certificate can be completed. Similarly, in some situations, a hospital or State-licensed physician may, with the permission of the decedent’s family, perform an autopsy. 


In Maryland, who decides if there will be an autopsy? 

This answer depends on who the decedent was and the circumstances surrounding their death. In Maryland, an individual dying as a result of a homicide, poisoning, suicide, criminal abortion, rape, therapeutic misadventure, drowning, or dying in a suspicious or unusual manner, or a death of an apparently healthy individual or a case which is dead on arrival at the hospital shall be examined by the medical examiner in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. In addition, in the case of a firefighter who dies in the line of duty, or a person who suffers a fire-related death, Maryland law dictates that the medical examiner must conduct an autopsy. Lastly, if the decedent died in a State-funded or State-operated facility, and the death appears unusual or suspicious in nature, the death shall be investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. By contrast, a State licensed physician or hospital pathologist may perform an autopsy, with permission from the decedent’s family, on “non-medical examiner cases”, such as a stillbirth or neonatal death, a hospital death in which the cause of death has been established by a hospital physician and is due to disease, or when a decedent is dead on arrival to the hospital but the physician who pronounces death has previously treated the patient. Finally, when the decedent has a family doctor and dies from a natural cause such as from a disease, the family or hospital doctor can complete the death certificate and an autopsy may not be necessary, unless requested by the family. 


Can the family or anyone else request or prevent an autopsy from being performed? 

Before an autopsy can be performed in the instance of a non-medical examiner death (death during hospital stay), the next of kin must grant permission. However, when state law requires a medical examiner to perform an autopsy, family permission is not required. A family may object to an autopsy because of religious beliefs. In this event, the Chief Medical Examiner must review the matter and determine, usually after speaking with the next of kin, whether it is absolutely necessary to perform an autopsy over a family’s objections. If the Chief Medical Examiner determines an autopsy is required, the family may ask the court to intervene and grant an injunction to prevent the procedure until a hearing can be scheduled. This will, however, delay the release of the body to the funeral home.

Who performs an autopsy? Where is an autopsy performed?  

Autopsies that are conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are either conducted by the Chief Medical Examiner, the Deputy Medical Examiner, an assistant medical examiner or a pathologist authorized by the Chief Medical Examiner to perform the autopsy. These autopsies are generally conducted in Baltimore or at some other facility authorized by the Chief Medical Examiner. By contrast, if the decedent has died in a hospital in a non-suspicious manner, a hospital pathologist or other State-licensed physician may, with the permission of the family, perform the autopsy. 


What is done during an autopsy? 

During an autopsy, the forensic pathologists thoroughly examine the body as well as its internal organs. Additionally, special tests are performed to check for the presence of infectious diseases, alcohol and/or drugs. To the extent that any evidence is discovered that may assist the pathologist in determining the cause of death, that evidence is collected. A typical forensic autopsy takes approximately 2-4 hours but may require additional time to complete the various tests. 


Who pays for an autopsy? 

If the autopsy is performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, there is no charge to the family. Tax dollars fund this service. Families may be charged a nominal fee of $30 for a copy of the autopsy report. If, however, the autopsy is requested by the family and is performed by a private physician at another facility, the family will likely have to pay for the costs of the autopsy subject to the rates of that physician. 


How long does it take for the autopsy report to be completed? 

If the cause of death is established to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the medical examiner who investigates the case shall file in the medical examiner’s office a report on the cause of death within 30 days after notification of the case. Importantly, however, because various tests may need to be performed on a person’s body, organs or blood, this time frame may be extended. 


Does the autopsy report become public record? Where are these records kept? 

The official medical examiner’s autopsy report is a public record and is generally subject to disclosure under the Annotated Code of Maryland, State Government Article §§ 10-611 et seq., unless the case is subject to an ongoing investigation, or another appropriate reason for denial of disclosure exists. The individual files of the Chief Medical Examiner, however, are not public records but rather are private medical records protected from disclosure. 

The official autopsy report is maintained by the custodian of records of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. 



For additional information, please contact the personal injury lawyers at Silverman Thompson toll-free at 800.385.2243 or contact or call Steve Silverman directly at 410-385-2226 for a complimentary consultation. 


  Continue Reading ›

Maryland has a comprehensive dog bite statute that imposes strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their pets, regardless of the breed. However, there are certain exceptions and nuances to this law, particularly concerning pit bulls.

Maryland’s Dog Bite Statute

Maryland’s dog bite law is codified in Section 3-1901 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code. This statute establishes strict liability for dog owners, meaning they can be held responsible for injuries caused by their dogs without the need to prove negligence or prior knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensities.

What is uninsured motorist coverage?

Although automobile liability insurance is mandatory for Maryland drivers, I cannot urge drivers enough to carry significant uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage protects drivers when they are in a collision caused by a driver that has failed to obtain automobile insurance or when the offending driver cannot be identified (i.e. a hit and run or phantom vehicle scenario). While Maryland law mandates that all motor vehicles must carry liability insurance, data provided by the Insurance Information Institute estimates that over 15% of all Maryland drivers are unlawfully uninsured motorists.  Moreover, neighboring states, such as Virginia and Delaware, do not have any laws mandating that drivers carry liability insurance, so victims of collisions caused by those drivers who enter Maryland may be left without recourse or a means to obtain compensation. When this occurs, you and the occupants in your vehicle may look to your own motor vehicle insurance policy to compensate you for your damages up to your policy’s UM coverage limits.

Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) protects drivers and occupants of the vehicle who are involved in a collision caused by a driver who did not have sufficient coverage to compensate them for their damages. Maryland law requires a minimum of $30,000 per person, $60,000 per occurrence, for liability and UM/UIM limits. In this scenario, the insurance company will never pay more than $30,000 for any one individual or more than $60,000 for the entirety of all persons affected by a collision.  At first glance, one might think those sums are sufficient, however, with the dramatic rise in medical costs, those sums barely make a dent in the medical costs in cases where there are serious injuries or where multiple people are injured. Keep this in mind, a brief trip on a Medivac Helicopter to Shock Trauma costs approximately $90,0000. A spinal fusion procedure for a back injury can easily run you upwards of $60,000.


Do I need uninsured motorist coverage?

UIM coverage can protect you from losing all your assets and going bankrupt from medical expenses or not being able to work when someone who has insufficient insurance coverage injures you in a collision. UIM coverage provides you, the occupants of your vehicle, and your resident family relatives with additional coverage up to the difference between the limits of UIM coverage and the at-fault driver’s bodily injury coverage. In other words, if the vehicle that caused the collision had $30,000 in insurance coverage and you carried a policy with $100,000 in UIM coverage, you could be entitled to additional compensation of up to $70,000 from your UIM policy once you receive the full limits of the bodily injury coverage from the offending vehicle.  Keep in mind that you must first receive the full limits of bodily injury coverage from the offending vehicle before your UIM claim can become ripe.[1]


How much uninsured motorist coverage do I need?

With insurance costs always rising, many are lax to purchase sufficient coverage to protect themselves and their families.  While purchasing the minimal amounts of motor vehicle insurance to become a legal driver in Maryland can be costly, especially if you have a negative driving record, it typically does not cost vehicle owners that much more to become sufficiently insured and to increase your protections. I recommend that all vehicle owners purchase a minimum of $250,000 (per person)/$500,000 (per occurrence) in coverage limits for both your Bodily Injury and UM/UIM portions of your policy.[2]  If you have a family, if your family depends upon you for its support, own a business, have substantial assets, or need greater peace of mind, I always recommend obtaining at least $1 million in Bodily Injury and UM/UIM coverage. This additional level of protection will follow you and your family even if they are involved in a collision that does not involve a family vehicle.

While increasing your policy limits will likely increase your insurance premiums, this is definitely not an area of your budget where you want to skimp.  Far too often I hear my clients proudly declare, “I have full coverage.”  Full coverage by no means, however, equates to good, sufficient coverage.  All “full coverage” means is that you carry liability and comprehensive coverage on your vehicle, and sometimes Personal Injury Protection (PIP) as well.  Every day I meet with clients who thought they had sufficient coverage because they purchased “full coverage” wherein reality, all they have is a policy with coverage up to Maryland’s minimal limits of $30,000/$60,000.

Remember, it is extremely important to call and retain a personal injury attorney as soon as you can after any collision or injury you or a loved one sustains.  You should reach out prior to speaking with anyone from any insurance company.  As always, I remain available to consult with you in any injury situation or if you have questions about whether you may be entitled to benefits under any policy of insurance. Please contact me, Jason Wasserman, at (410) 385-9110.


Continue Reading ›

Thanks to Delegate C.T. Wilson’s persistent effort, the Maryland General Assembly passed and Governor Larry Hogan signed into law House Bill 642 on April 4, 2017.  The new law provision extends the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to sue offenders and the individuals, organizations and/or government entities who allowed the abuse to occur.

Maryland’s previous statute of limitations provided that child sex abuse victims only had to age 25 to sue (seven years from the date the victim reached the age of majority). The new law extends the statute of limitations to age 38. Although the law is a huge step forward, there are a couple of important things to note.

The Law Requires Gross Negligence to Sue Responsible Third Parties

Another fatal train accident has taken place on the east coast. This one occurred yesterday in Philadelphia and the preliminary investigating seems to indicate that the cause of the accident was conductor error. According to the unnamed sources, the so called “black boxes” which were recovered from the crash scene indicate that the train was travelling at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The accident occurred as the train attempted to negotiate a curve in the tracks where trains are not to exceed 50 miles per hour. So far, eight people are confirmed dead and hundreds more have been injured. There is a criminal investigation underway.
Continue Reading ›

Sadly, another bicycle rider has been killed by a driver, this time in Roland Park.

I have handled two high-profile bicycle death cases in Maryland in the last few years, and both of them were tragic. The first involved a bicyclist who was run over by a commercial vehicle in Baltimore City. That case also involved a hit and run, though the driver in that case never came back to the scene.

The second involved a Johns Hopkins student who was run over by an elderly woman.

On October 14, 20014, prominent D.C. Rabbi and religious scholar Barry Freundel was arrested by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and charged with various offenses relating to voyeurism. According to charging documents, Rabbi Freundel installed recording devices in the changing/shower area connected to a Jewish ritual bath known as a “mikvah.”

Rabbi Freundel was affiliated with Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., he was a Jewish studies professor at Georgetown Law and he served on the faculty at Towson University in Maryland. Preliminary information suggests Rabbi Freundel encouraged his female students to participate in the mikvah and thousands of women who used the mikvah face the very real prospect that Rabbi Freundel captured and/or distributed the women’s images without their knowledge or consent. Media accounts indicate that several of the institutions with which Rabbi Freundel was affiliated are currently investigating other potential misconduct and MPD’s investigation in that regard is ongoing.

Silverman Thompson (STSW) is in the process of investigating the potential criminal and civil liability flowing from Rabbi Freundel’s conduct on behalf of several potential victims. If you believe you may be a victim of Rabbi Freundel, you have important rights in the criminal process that STSW’s victims’ rights attorneys can help you protect. In addition, you have the right to seek a financial recovery against an array of individuals and entities that may be held liable for Rabbi Freundel’s acts. Many of these rights are time-sensitive and it is imperative that you immediately seek competent legal representation.

More than 100,000 households and businesses have been left without potable water because of a large-scale chemical spill discovered Thursday on the Elk River near Charlestown, West Virginia. The spill occurred just north of one of the largest water treatment plants in America and as many as 480,000 residents may be affected.

Officials believe methylcyclohexene methanol, a chemical used in the coal washing process, leaked into the Elk River from a 48,000 gallon containment tank at a site run by Freedom Industries, Inc. The Governor of West Virginia has declared a state of emergency for nine counties and countless businesses have been ordered shuttered. Reports indicate that federal law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia are exploring federal criminal charges in connection with the spill.

Experts warn that ingesting or inhaling the chemical poses potentially severe health risks. Residents near the Elk River have already complained of a strong licorice-type odor that has produced eye and skin irritations, headaches, difficulty breathing and other health issues and at least five people have been hospitalized for symptoms related to the leak.

A tragic national trend continued Sunday in the latest incident of police killing an unarmed individual suffering from mental illness or disability. After allegedly stating “I don’t have time for this,” a police officer shot unarmed North Carolina resident Keith Vidal, 18, in the chest, fatally wounding the 5’3″, 90-pound teen. Vidal, who suffered from schizophrenia, had been experiencing a psychotic episode and his family was unable to calm him down.

During the episode, Vidal’s stepfather, Mark Wilsey, called 911 for help and reported that Vidal had refused to take his medication and was attempting to fight his mother. Wilsey requested that police take Vidal somewhere he could receive help. According to the family, three officers from three different police departments then arrived on the scene.

The first two officers spoke with Vidal and apparently had some success in calming him down, when the third officer, from the Southport Police Department, arrived 14 minutes later. As stated in a police report obtained by a local news station, one of the officers informed the 911 dispatcher multiple times that that everything at the scene was okay. According to Wilsey, however, when the third officer arrived, he suggested that a Taser be used on Vidal, at which point Vidal attempted to run from the officers.

Last month, a D.C. jury found that the District Lounge & Grille, a bar (now closed) formerly located in the Adams Morgan section of the District, was liable to the Estate of Julia Bachleitner under the D.C. Dram Shop Statute. The parties had previously agreed that, if the bar was found liable, the damages would be $1 million.
Continue Reading ›

Contact Information