If your loved one recently passed away and you suspect neglect or abuse was a contributing factor, you do not need an autopsy to sue. In fact, one report on the autopsy and the elderly patient says that the elderly have the lowest rate of autopsies of “any age group.” In most cases, then, having an autopsy performed when your elderly loved one dies is not expected.
Even though some of the greatest medical discoveries come from performing autopsies, according to the same report, there are some common reasons that elderly people do not have autopsies after death.
About Autopsies for Elderly Populations
Autopsies are how some of the principles of medicine became a reality. When someone dies from otherwise unknown reasons, an autopsy can help clarify the cause of death. Autopsies provide insight on someone’s death, as well as previously unknown health issues that individual had. The report referenced earlier said that “We learn causes of death or are humbled, perhaps, to see that the cause of death is so often less clear than we had concluded.”
However, autopsies in general are in decline, especially in older patients. Doctors are more likely to rule a nursing home patient’s death simple complications of old age or disease, rather than thoroughly investigating it, with one report citing “infectious and cardiovascular disease the leading causes in elderly death.” This shows a change in attitudes of approaching elder care and autopsies in general. After all, most nursing home care reform was not incorporated into legislation until the late 20th century, with medical professionals increasingly aware of the legal implications of medical malpractice.
What Autopsies Show
Autopsies reveal a full physical and chemical portrait of what happened to the deceased person in the moment of death. They can be costly, but provide invaluable insight to risks and complications that were possibly unthinkable before.
Typically, autopsies are done in special circumstances where the death is considered unexpected, or if the death is a result of suspected violence. For most nursing home residents, death is not entirely unexpected, and autopsies are not performed.
Additionally, reasons for limiting autopsies on the elderly include:
- Performing an autopsy on an elderly person is too costly, typically not reimbursed by Medicare.
- Alternative imaging techniques (CT, MRI, PET scan, SPECT, ultrasound) are considered sufficient enough
- Medico-legal fears: Understandable concern about lawsuits is a huge deterrent to autopsy in spite of the obvious potential for educational, clinical, and research gains.
This is not an exhaustive list of why autopsies are limited for deaths of elderly patients. In the case of some older people, death can be expected. However, that does not mean that all deaths that happen in nursing homes are necessary. Sometimes, nursing home residents die due to unnecessary abuse or neglect.
Building a Case Without an Autopsy
Nursing home abuse and neglect is increasingly common, despite legislative measures against it. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, impacts of elder abuse can “exacerbate existing health conditions,” and even increase the risk for premature death.
If you suspect that your loved one recently died due to the neglect of a nursing home staff or medical expert, you do not need an autopsy to prove neglect. Any chronic health condition can be exacerbated by abuse or neglect, especially if the neglect is simply ignoring the good care of your loved one.
Abuse, Neglect, and Death
The effects of abuse and neglect in nursing homes can lead to problems in every aspect of life, and occasionally even death. When your loved one does not receive good, quality care from a nursing home, it can impact their physical wellbeing, social resources, medical costs, psychological state, financial wellbeing, and more.
Although elder abuse is a more recent area of study, elder abuse is more frequently reported than ever. It is possible to build a lawsuit without the evidence of an autopsy because there are many other ways to prove instances of neglect and abuse. If you ever noticed any of the following in your loved one’s nursing home, it could be a sign of commonplace neglect or abuse:
- Staff is overworked and outnumbered by patients
- Staff is inattentive to individual needs of patients
- Nursing home is cluttered or dirty
- Residents are unattended for long periods of time
- Residents are frequently sick or becoming injured in the nursing home
- Residents have bruises or unexplained injuries
- You noticed any physical or emotional changes in your loved one’s behavior while he or she was a nursing home resident
This is a non-exhaustive list of signs your loved one’s nursing home is capable of abuse or neglect. In the modern world of nursing home medicine, some medical staff would write these conditions off as typical “difficult patient” behavior, but that is not always the case. If you suspect your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect, a legal professional could help you build a case, with or without an autopsy.
Our Nursing Home Lawyers Can Help You
The lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm want to help fight for your loved one’s rights and get you the settlement you deserve. You do not have to handle this alone. Talk about your case with a member of our staff today when you call us at: (800) 842-6336.