Importance of Death Certificate Following Passing of Nursing Home Residents

Illinois nursing home neglect often leads to the death of a resident. Because of the medical problems that many seniors already have, injuries caused by neglect often prove fatal where they otherwise might not have been as harmful for a younger community member. As most know, when neglect leads to a passing then legal accountability can be had, including the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Obviously, one critical piece of information when it comes to proving these claims is the death certificate. The death certificate is a form that is usually jointly completed by a doctor and medical examiner to indicate details of the death (date/time), cause and manner of death. It’s self-explanatory that this information may impact a lawsuit. If a patient suffered a fall and the cause of death was something connected to trauma to the head, then there is an obvious connection between possible neglect and death. Even in cases where the cause of death was not something obviously connected to neglect, the evidence may prove useful. For example, a passing due to complications from an infection may be a sign of neglect, such as allowing bed sores to develop and worsen
The bottom line, however, is that these certificates are important documents, and it is critical that the information contained in them be accurate. Unfortunately, as discussed in a recent AMED News story, mistakes in death certificate documentation are too common. There are many reasons for the errors, including doctor unfamiliarity with the process. Observers note that training on how to properly fill out death certificates is nonexistent in many places. Some doctors never fill one of these out until they are actually in their residency. Others remain confused about what items they need to fill out and what should be filled out by the medical examiner.

Also, a doctor’s familiarity with a particular patient may influence the accuracy of the certificate. If the doctor is unfamiliar with a patient–perhaps only seeing them a few times–then they may have less information about the ultimate cause of the passing. Similarly, patients with cognitive mental challenges–like dementia and Alzheimer’s–are usually less able to share information with their doctors about symptoms, experiences, etc. As a result, if the resident passes away, the doctor may be less accurate in indicating exactly what the cause might have been.

For this reason, it is not uncommon for death certificates for nursing home residents to be filled with inaccuracies or vague statements. These errors can impact possible legal challenges if nursing home neglect is suspected to have contributed to the harm. An experienced attorney who has worked on these cases in the past can explain how information in a death certificate may impact your specific case. Importantly, the details of the certificate, while useful, are not necessarily proof-positive of anything. Instead, the details are only a snapshot of a medical opinion at a particular time. If new information is uncovered or provided to the medical professional, that opinion might change.

See Other Blog Posts:

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MRSA Infections on the Rise in Nursing Homes

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