Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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. 


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The law firm of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White takes on a limited number of plaintiff’s personal injury cases each month. We limit our intake so we can provide the highest quality representation to each of our clients. To better equip our clients with an understanding of the process, we have broken down the phases of what to expect of our attorney-client relationship.


General information regarding the incident will be obtained when you are first interviewed. Certain other material relating to things you should not do will be furnished to you. You will be asked to sign authorization forms which will allow us to obtain necessary information. We will schedule a follow-up appointment for you to meet with the attorney handling your case shortly after you retain Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White.
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Although we are based in Maryland, our attorneys are often retained to handle wrongful death cases all over the United States. Below is a detailed discussion on the status of the wrongful death law in Massachusetts:

Questions Presented: (1) Who can bring, and benefit from, a wrongful death action under Massachusetts law? (2) What damages can be recovered for wrongful death? (3) Is there a cap on non-economic damages?


(1) Who can bring, and benefit from, a wrongful death action under Massachusetts law?

The entire statutory scheme for wrongful death recovery in Massachusetts is contained in G.L. c. 229. The basic principles for liability for wrongful death are set forth in G.L. c. 229, § 2, which provides:

A person who (1) by his negligence causes the death of a person , or (2) by willful, wanton or reckless act causes the death of a person under such circumstances that the deceased could have recovered damages for personal injuries if his death had no resulted, or (3) operates a common carrier of passengers and by his negligence causes the death of a passenger, or (4) operates a common carrier of passengers and by his willful, wanton or reckless act causes the death of a passenger under such circumstances that the deceased could have recovered damages for personal injuries if his death had not resulted, or (5) is responsible for a breach of warranty . . . which results in injury to a person that causes death, shall be liable [for] damages. . . .

G.L. c. 229, § 2. Thus, the statute allows recovery for death resulting from negligence, breach of warranty, or reckless or intentional conduct.

The proper party to bring a wrongful death suit under G.L. c. 229, § 2 is the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate. G.L. c. 229, § 2. The personal representative brings the action to enforce the rights of the estate and the statutory beneficiaries. The beneficiaries may not sue in their own names for any damages resulting from wrongful death. See Stockdale v. Bird & Son, Inc., 399 Mass. 249 (1987). A wrongful death action may be brought against any person or corporation who causes the death of a person. G.L. c. 229, § 2.
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Following the drowning death of their three-year-old son in a septic tank, a Montana family recently filed a lawsuit against their local water and sewer district. In 2007, the young boy, while playing in a driveway at a family friend’s home, fell into the tank and drowned. In the lawsuit, the Montana family claimed that local district officials were negligent in two ways: (1) the septic system was placed to close to the driveway; and (2) that the district was negligent in failing to install what is known as a “kid-catcher” safety device at the opening of the tank, a saftey feature that would have prevented their son’s death.

As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland lawyer, I have successfully handled prior drowning deaths in septic tanks or similar sewage facilities. Because of the well-known hazard that these tanks/facilities pose to small children, there are clear standards and safety features that have been adopted by a variety of professional organizations, standards/features that are designed to prevent these types of tragedies. Unfortunately, due to the large number of these older tanks that remain unmarked and/or unidentified on individuals’ properties, these preventable tragedies continue to this day. If a loved one has been injured or died as a result of a similar tragedy, call the lawyers at STSW for a free consultation.

Very sad news coming out of Anne Arundel County , Maryland this morning. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Ashley Nicole Meyers was “attempting to cross Ritchie Highway near Hamburg Street in Pasadena when she was struck by a northbound 1999 Nissan Sentra about 5:47 p.m.” yesterday. Police are reporting that the child was wearing dark clothing at dusk and crossed the busy highway at a place not designated for pedestrian crossings. The girl was pronounced dead at Baltimore Washington Medical Center an hour later.

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of both the child and the unnamed driver of the vehicle that struck her. There is no report-at this time-that drugs or alcohol played a part in this motor vehicle accident.


For more information, or a free consultation, please contact the Maryland personal injury lawyers of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, LLC. or call Steve Silverman at 410-385-2226.

The Baltimore Sun is reporting very sad news coming out of Westminster this morning. Apparently a driver of a Ford pickup truck slammed into the rear of a Chevrolet Cavalier that was full of McDaniel College students around 11:00pm yesterday. The 19 year old student, Thomas Rouleau, of Gilboa, N.Y., died at the scene. Four other students were in the car, three of which were taken to University of Maryland-Shock Trauma. Fortunately those injuries were not life threatening and they were released.

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mr. Rouleau, who apparently was not responsible for this accident. It is reported that this was the second accident in a matter of minutes the driver of the Ford pickup had caused and fled. Sadly in these situations, experience shows that their is a strong possibility the hit and run driver may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Hopefully the police will find the driver today and bring him/her to justice. Just by leaving the scene of an accident involving death, the fleeing driver is subject to a penalty of up to ten years in jail. Additional charges may be warranted.

Experienced personal injury attorneys know there is no question asked more often and as difficult to answer than; What is my case worth? The answer to this question is based upon many factors which an experienced personal injury lawyer can best answer.

Our system of civil justice is terrible at valuing the loss, but rather consistently values the lawsuit. For instance, there are many cases involving horrific tragedies such as the death of a child, the loss of which can never be compensated for. Nonetheless, our judicial system attempts to assign a value to such an incomprehensible losses. Hence, the value of most lawsuits never truly compensate for the irreplaceable loss of life or limb. So how do we lawyers come up with a value for injury cases? Understanding this is an imperfect science, lets get cracking.

Most experienced personal injury lawyers will consider the below factors, as well as personal experience, to provide clients with a range of what a case may be worth. The factors that determine value of a personal injury case include:

1) Strength of liability
2) Venue
3) Severity of Injury
4) Medical Bills: past and future
5) Economic Loss: Wages and Loss of services
6) Aggravating Factors
7) Skill of Attorneys

Strength of liability: The settlement value of a case will often be greatly affected by the strength of the liability. For instance, if two auto accident plaintiffs have the same injury (broken back) the pretrial settlement offers may vary greatly based upon the strength of the liability argument.

If liability is clear (rear end collision), than the pretrial offer will be higher to take into account that there will be a verdict, and it is just a question of how much. On the other hand, if liability is disputed and the defendant has a chance of winning on liability, the pretrial settlement offer will be considerably less to reflect the real possibility that the defendant may walk away paying nothing.
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Nissan recently decided to recall 204,361 vehicles from its 2007 and 2008 model years in the United States due to the possibility that a passenger side airbag could fail to deploy properly in an accident. The recall covers 2007 and 2008 Nissan Altima, Altima Coupe, 350Z, Murano and Rogue; and Infiniti G35 Sedan, G37 Coupe and EX35 built from March 12, 2007 to May 27, 2008. Please click here for the full article.

The defect was in the passenger side “Occupant Classification System,” which figures out whether the front passenger is present, and if so, whether it’s a child or small adult. Apparently, the problem is with Nissan’s “Occupant Classification System,” which didn’t work properly since it was out of spec. As a consequence, the passenger airbag may not deploy in a serious crash.

For more information regarding Nissan’s recall, or to speak with a trial attorney with experience litigating similar product liability claims against automobile manufacturers, please contact us for a free consultation.

As leading Maryland personal injury lawyers, we are often asked to explain Maryland law regarding wrongful death lawsuits.

Generally, a wrongful death claim is brought by a surviving spouse, child or parent. A Survival claim is brought by the personal representative of an estate.

To recover for a Wrongful Death cause of action, plaintiff must prove: 1) death; 2) negligence of the defendant; and 3) defendant’s negligence proximately caused death of decedent. Weimer v. Hetrick, 309 Md. 536, 547 (1987). In addition to the elements set out by case law, the Wrongful Death statute provides that the plaintiff must be within a category of defined beneficiaries under the statute and the claim must be brought within the applicable time period, 3 years after death of decedent. Md. Cts & Jud. Proc. Art. § 3-904.

Each year, more than forty percent of the total number of traffic fatalities are alcohol related. In this country, nearly 17,000 thousand people are killed on an annual basis in accidents caused by drunk drivers.

Sadly, notwithstanding these horrific statistics, Maryland law does not permit a cause of action against a bar owner, restaurant, homeowner or other individual or entity responsible for negligently serving alcohol to individuals who later get behind the wheel of a car and cause serious, and oftentimes catastrophic, injury to others. See Veytsman v. New York Palace, Inc., 170 Md.App. 104, 122 n.11 (2006). Such a claim is known as tavern liability or “dram shop” liability. In fact, Maryland is one of only three states that do not permit such lawsuits. Maryland law also does not allow an injured victim to recover punitive damages in automobile accident cases, even in instances where the driver that caused the injury has consumed excessive quantities of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs. See Komornik v. Sparks, 331 Md. 720 (1993).
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