Autopsy Report Vs. Toxicology Report

By Mary Jane Freeman - Updated January 29, 2018
Police crime scene tape

An autopsy is a routine procedure, usually conducted to determine a person's cause of death prior to issuing a death certificate. Toxicology tests, on the other hand, are usually ordered when someone is the victim of a crime, dies unexpectedly or dies for no obvious reason. The results of either test are officially recorded in a report and may even be used in a subsequent civil or criminal lawsuit.

Reports Help Explain Cause of Death

During an autopsy, the physician looks for evidence of disease, injury or other abnormality by investigating both the inside and outside of the body, including the brain, tissues and organs. Once complete, the doctor discloses his findings in an autopsy report, often listing the cause of death on the decedent's death certificate.

Toxicology tests can be conducted on living and deceased persons and go further by testing for the presence of prescription drugs, commonly abused substances like alcohol, cocaine or marijuana, or a particular poison in the body. The findings are disclosed in a toxicology report and indicate whether any drugs or poisons in the body led to the person's illness or death.

Autopsy and Toxicology Reports Used as Evidence

Autopsy and toxicology reports are routinely used as evidence in lawsuits. For example, if a family is struck and killed by a drunken driver on their way back from Disneyland, the attorney prosecuting the drunken driver may use each family member's autopsy report to show that they died from injuries sustained in the car accident and not some other unrelated cause. The prosecutor also may use the defendant's toxicology report to show his blood alcohol level was over the legal limit at the time of the accident. Other common uses for autopsy and toxicology reports include wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits.

About the Author

Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.

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