The short answer is “no.”
This question comes up a lot with hospitalized patients who died within 24 hours of admission to the hospital. Under Texas law, hospitals must report these deaths to the Medical Examiner’s office for investigation. The Medical Examiner may decide that an autopsy is necessary to determine the cause of death.
In an autopsy a pathologist physician examines the body, often orders blood work for a toxicology screen, and performs other testing to reach an opinion on the cause and manner of death.
Cause and manner are two different things. The cause of death can be an injury, disease, drug toxicity, or multiple factors that work together to create a physiological condition bad enough to lead to death. The manner of death considers the surrounding circumstances, which, under Texas law can be one of five categories: natural, accident, suicide, homicide, and undetermined.
As an experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney, I know that pathologists and medical examiners don’t have all the facts in front of them when they perform an autopsy.
For example, I recently worked on a case where the medical examiner recorded the cause of death as including hypertension, clogged arteries, and obesity, with a natural cause of death. The medical examiner didn’t know, though, that the patient had been deprived of oxygen for over 15 minutes after he was brought out of anesthesia after a surgery.
That case is a perfect example of how a “natural death” autopsy conclusion doesn’t close the door on a wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit against a Texas hospital, surgery center, anesthesiologist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or doctor.
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Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas.