In some cases where a person has died, an inquest is necessary to determine the cause of their death. The results of an inquest may therefore form an important part of the evidence in a personal injury or clinical negligence compensation claim.
If you need advice or assistance with making a compensation claim, our specialist solicitors may be able to assist you. Contact The Legal Line on 0800 0328511 or by completing an online compensation claim enquiry form.
Inquests are investigations held by a coroner to determine how, when and where an individual has died. The purpose of an inquest is to establish the facts, rather than to apportion blame.
Coroners have a vital task giving certainty and reassurance to bereaved families and in meeting the public interest by determining the facts of death, which are reported to them.
A post mortem will usually be carried out by a pathologist prior to an inquest. This assists the Coroner in their inquiry in determining the cause of death and includes various tests, such as tests for toxins.
If the cause of a death is in doubt, or if death has occurred under any of the circumstances detailed below, it will usually be reported to the Coroner. Approximately a third of all deaths in England are reported to the Coroner, either by doctors, the police or registrars. Around 12% of these reported deaths eventually result in inquests:
• violent or suspicious circumstances
• an accident (including work related accidents)
• suspected medical negligence
• an industrial disease
• the actions of the deceased (e.g. self-harm, overdose or drug abuse)
• deaths in prison or police custody
• when death occurred during a surgical procedure or before recovery from an anaesthetic
• deaths occurring within 24 hours of admittance to hospital
• where the deceased was detained under the Mental Health Act
• when the attending doctor had not seen the deceased within 14 days before their death.
A post mortem may then be arranged by the coroner and, unless the death is found to have been due to natural causes, an inquest may be carried out. It is usually around 3-4 months before the coroner is able to hold the inquest.
The coroner must notify the spouse, near relative and/or personal representative that an inquest is to be held.
If someone is believed to have died as the result of negligence, for example in an accident at work, road accident or due to sub-standard medical care, and their family wish to make a claim for damages, the results of any inquest are very important.
Inquests can be extremely useful in providing evidence of lack of care for a subsequent claim for compensation. The treating doctors and nursing staff can be called to give evidence and be cross examined by a legal representative on behalf of the family.
Where there are concerns about lack of correct medical care therefore, it is extremely important that the bereaved family are legally represented at the inquest proceedings.
Where a verdict of lack of care is reached, the Coroner can make recommendations to improve systems such as how an urgent medical referral is made to an appropriate specialist.
During an inquest, the Coroner will hear evidence relating to the death of the deceased and can call upon all witnesses who have relevant information concerning the inquiry.
The inquest investigation is inquisitorial and all persons attending do so to assist the coroner in his task of establishing the facts. The Coroner has discretion as to who participates but parents, spouses and personal representatives of the deceased qualify as interested parties entitled to attend, examine witnesses and make legal submissions.
In a medical case, doctors involved in the treatment of the deceased will be required to give evidence, either in person or by means of a statement. The Healthcare Trust responsible for the hospital where the death occurred will also usually be represented by a lawyer if there is a possibility of criticism of the hospital.
Most inquests are heard without a jury but a jury must be called where :
• the death occurred in prison
• the death was caused by an accident, poisoning or disease – notice of which is required to be given
• the death occurred in police custody
• the death occurred in circumstances the continuance or possible recurrence of which is prejudice to the health and safety of the public or any section of the public.
• where there is suspicion of murder or manslaughter
At the end of an inquest, the Coroner will reach a specific ‘verdict’.
Funding for legal representation at inquests is limited.
Our lawyers are specialists in all areas of clinical negligence, industrial disease and personal injury claims. They can offer sympathetic advice and assistance to anyone looking for help with a claim in respect of a deceased family member.
Contact The Legal Line on 0800 0328511 or by completing a claim enquiry form online.