Inquests: Why is one being held and do I need Legal Representation?

Inquests: Why is one being held and do I need Legal Representation?

It is a very difficult time when you lose a loved one suddenly.   Trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of a loved one can be a deeply distressing experience, especially when the exact circumstances of their death are unknown or unclear. In many circumstances, particularly inquests involving public institutions such as hospitals that come under the HSE or private medical care, legal representation is the best way to ensure you discover all the facts.

You may have been advised that there will be an Inquest into the death, and we can help you with this and assist you in putting forward the questions you have regarding your loved one’s death.

Why is there an Inquest?

An Inquest will take place where investigation is required into sudden, unexplained, and unnatural deaths.    The Coroner has the legal responsibility for carrying out the investigation. The coroner has a number of duties during an inquest:

  • To determine the cause of death;
  • To allay rumour or suspicion surrounding the death;
  • To draw attention to the existence of circumstances, which if un-remedied, might lead to further deaths;
  • To advance medical knowledge;
  • To preserve the legal interests of the Deceased’s person’s family, heirs or other interested parties.

An inquest is an inquiry held in public by the coroner. If the Coroner considers the cause of death may be due to unnatural causes, they can hold an inquest, sometimes with a jury. Evidence is taken from witnesses who can assist in answering questions for the Coroner’s enquiry. At the conclusion of the inquest, the Coroner will read out a formal verdict in which the identity of the deceased, how and when the death occurred is recorded. While the Coroner or jury may make a general recommendation designed to prevent similar deaths, they do not decide whose fault it was or whether there was a criminal offence.

Currently, due to a backlog arising from Covid delays, an Inquest can take up to 24 months from the date of death to be heard.   It is important that if you are consider that the death arised out of negligence, whether medical treatment or a fatal injury you should contact us as soon as possible as you may be precluded from bringing a claim if you don’t do so within 2 years.  You do not need to wait for the Inquest to seek legal advice.

What happens at the Inquest?

If a Coroner decides to hold an inquest, you may need to attend Court.

The family will be greeted by the Court registrar before the inquest begins. The inquest proceeds as follows:

  • The Coroner opens the inquest
  • Witnesses are called to give evidence and are sworn in
  • Witness evidence is read by the Court registrar
  • The Coroner may ask the witness questions.
  • Other interested parties such as the family may then ask the witness questions
  • If witnesses are not present, their evidence may be read in
  • The Coroner makes findings and returns a Verdict

Do I need Legal Representation?

If you think that legal action may be taken as a result of the death, then you should engage legal representation for the Inquest.  If the death has arisen as a result of medical care or treatment, an accident at work or a road traffic accident we will be able to advise you whether you need representation and assist you if you do.

What can we do for you at an Inquest?

  • Help secure vital evidence for an inquest: Securing evidence which may have been overlooked could help to uncover the truth about the circumstances in which someone died.
  • Ask questions of witnesses:  We can ask questions of any relevant witnesses involved in the events surrounding the death – to test their evidence and gain a better understanding about what went on in the build up to the tragedy. This could include the Gardai, paramedics, medical and forensic experts, the pathologist who carried out the post-mortem or any witnesses at the scene.
  • Address matters of law: As well as asking questions on behalf of the deceased’s family, we can also address the coroner on matters concerning the law. We can also make submissions to a coroner as to other considerations, such as where there may be a risk of other deaths occurring in similar circumstances, highlighting need for change.
  • Deal with the media: It is not uncommon for the press to attend an inquest, as the public hearing may contain details which are of significant interest. The deceased’s family do not have to talk to the media if they don’t want to, but should they want to give their thoughts, we can do so on their behalf via an interview or pre-prepared statement.
  • Pursue a civil claim: If there is the potential for a civil claim to arise because of an avoidable death, we will be able to advise on how to pursue a case of this nature.

Inquests can be lengthy, detailed and complex, and you will benefit from having the support of expert inquest solicitors to ascertain whether more could have been done to prevent your loved one’s death.

Carlagh Casey, Medical Negligence Solicitor