Personal Injury Claims
The coroner is responsible for investigating deaths in certain circumstances, basically sudden or unexpected deaths. The particular circumstances are:
Furthermore if the deceased was not seen by the doctor certifying death, or was not seen during the 14 days before death, then again the death must be reported to the coroner.
Anyone can report a sudden or unexplained death to the coroner but usually this will be by a doctor or by the police.
When a case is reported to the coroner they have to decide whether or not there should be any further investigation and until the coroner has decided one way or the other, the registrar of births, marriages and deaths cannot register the death. Therefore when a case is referred to the coroner, it will usually delay the funeral.
Sometimes the coroner will order a postmortem examination, which is a medical examination to try and establish the cause of death. Postmortems take place at a hospital and once ordered by a coroner there is no right to object to the postmortem. However a coroner may take into account any strong reasons the family may have against a postmortem, for example religious beliefs.
If the post mortem shows that death was due to natural causes then the coroner will usually notify the registrar so that the body can be released for a funeral or cremation.
Sometimes the coroner will order an inquest. This is an inquiry to establish how, when and where the deceased died. The purpose is not to determine blame. There are no accusations, there is no “Defendant” but the inquest is a legal hearing and a coroner will examine and cross examine all witnesses under oath, in other words they have to swear to the truth of their evidence. Sometimes lawyers attend on behalf of the deceased or relatives or perhaps to represent a life insurer who may have to pay out on a life policy. They can be allowed to ask the witnesses questions but if those questions attempt to deal with issues of blame then the coroner can stop that line of questioning. For example if someone dies in a road traffic accident then there will often be an inquest. However the purpose of that inquest is not to establish who was to blame for the accident, but instead simply to establish the medical cause of death and the circumstances of the events leading up to and including the death. So the coroner will want to know how the accident occurred but will not apportion blame between the parties.
Various witnesses can be called to give evidence at the inquest. Usually a member of the family provides evidence of the identity of the deceased. The coroner’s officer may give evidence from witnesses who have provided statements by reading out those statements at the hearing. Where there are witnesses to the circumstances surrounding the death then they too may be called to give evidence so to go back to the road traffic accident example, others involved in the accident such as passengers or other drivers may be asked by the coroner to attend. The pathologist who carried out the post mortem can also be called although on other occasions the coroner may simply rely on the written post mortem report.
The hearing may lead to one of several verdicts:-
Most of these are self explanatory but open verdict requires a more explanation. An open verdict may be returned where there is insufficient evidence to return any other suggested verdict. In other words it is a verdict of last resort if non of the others apply.
Although we must emphasise that the purpose of an inquest is not to establish the blame for death, it can be a very useful way of gathering a lot of information about the circumstances of death, which information can be used to help support a claim on behalf of the deceased or their dependants at a later stage.