Post Mortem and Inquests

A death which arises from a road crash is unnatural and unexpected. Loved ones and friends are often left with a void, having had no time to prepare for the prospect of loss.

The Chaplaincy Team and hospital bereavement officer work alongside the medical team, and as such they may be able to offer advice and information which may be helpful during your time in hospital. It is important to remember that when you talk to them, you talk to them in complete confidence. All Hospitals have Chaplains and a hospital bereavement officer to support patients and their relatives and friends. There is no need to have any religious beliefs or faith system to talk to one of the Hospital Chaplains, they are there to listen and to help, and to provide support for coping with traumatic events and loss.

What is a Post Mortem?

Following the tragic death of a loved one, the conversations with hospital staff or the Police may focus upon a post mortem, but just what is a post mortem? A post mortem, which is also known as an autopsy, is the examination of a person’s body after that person’s death. The person who carries this out is a Pathologist. The purpose of a post mortem is to understand the nature and cause of a person’s death. A post mortem report forms part of the Police investigation, as for any criminal charge it is necessary to prove that a crash or collision caused the injuries which resulted in the death. This may seem obvious to an ordinary person, but at a criminal trial a person might try to argue that any intervening medical treatment was the true cause. A post mortem is therefore a means of evidencing the cause of death.

Organ Donation

Many people may already be signed up to the organ donation register, but their wishes might not have been known to family members. Medical staff may ask you to consider organ donation in the event of a death of a loved one.

RoadPeace North East supports Organ Donation but accepts that there are reasons and beliefs which make people choose not to. You should not feel pressured either way and support is available if you wish to talk about the possible options.

You may not even be able to comprehend what is being asked of you; you have just received the worst news of your life. Transplants are one of the most astounding achievements of modern medicines. Organ donation is the gift of an organ to help someone who needs a transplant. But they depend totally on the kindness of donors and their families who are willing to make this life saving or life enhancing gift to others. One donor has the ability to save and enhance several people’s lives. The more people who join the organ donor register, the more people’s lives can be saved. However, if a serious crime is being investigated by the Police it may not be possible to engage in organ donation as evidence of injuries may need to be secured.

To join the Organ Donor Register call 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.organdonotion.nhs.uk.

What is an Inquest?

Inquests are heard in the Coroners’ Court. This is a completely different format to criminal courts as the purpose is not to find guilt or apportion blame, but to determine how someone has come to die. A Coroner is a Judge who investigates, amongst other matters, violent or unnatural deaths; a road death is just that, violent, sudden and unnatural.

An Inquest will usually be ‘opened’ relatively quickly following a person’s death. This is an administrative step which is required. However, that step will last a matter of minutes and if there is an ongoing police investigation, with the possibility of criminal charges, the Inquest will then be adjourned until after such an investigation and any criminal charges have taken place. The reason for this is because the law recognises that there could be a risk that an Inquest could impact on the success of a criminal prosecution and so for the best chance of a prosecution the law requires the criminal prosecution to go ahead first. This can be frustrating as it means delay of the Inquest but it also means the family can focus on one legal process at a time.

There will usually be a number of individuals who will give evidence at an Inquest, and the Coroner will ask questions of them. Such individuals will often include a Pathologist, Police Officers, witnesses and drivers involved. Interested parties can attend, and can ask questions (and can be represented by a Solicitor or Barrister). A family member of a fatal road crash victim is an interested party. RoadPeace North East can offer support at Inquests and you should not hesitate to contact us for support and assistance.

Questions cannot be asked to determine questions of fault or blame, but simply to establish how someone has come to die. However, person may be entitled to refuse to answer a question on the basis that it could incriminate them. Inquests are almost always held after any criminal prosecution.

Once all of the evidence is heard a Coroner will make a decision. In some cases a jury will decide, but more often than not it will be a Coroner sitting alone. There are limited verdicts which can be given:

  • road traffic collision
  • natural causes
  • accident or misadventure
  • suicide
  • unlawful killing
  • lawful killing
  • industrial disease; or
  • open verdict (where there is insufficient evidence for any other verdict)

A Coroner can also deliver a narrative verdict which summarises the facts as to what has happened and makes a conclusion on the basis of those facts.

Families often feel frustrated by the Inquest process. It can feel uncomfortable and impersonal, and it can lead to more questions than answers. RoadPeace North East are here to support you and you should not hesitate to contact us.