Sadly people often come to us when their loved one has died having been told that an Inquest is necessary into their death. They are very often upset, confused and concerned. If a loved one dies from an asbestos related disease or there is the potential for the death to be linked in someway or another with asbestos then the death has to be investigated by the Coroner. The Coroner usually receives notification from the hospital or the GP treating the person who has died. This doesn’t always happen and so if you feel that your loved ones death has not been reported to a Coroner then we would certainly recommend that you contact the Coroner yourself. This is especially important when there is an ongoing claim for compensation.
An Inquest is a judicial process to find answers to the following questions:-
1. Who died?
2. How and when they died? and;
3. Why the death actually occurred
As part of the investigation a Coroner may order a Post Mortem to be carried out. We understand that the thought of a Post Mortem is unpleasant and upsetting but it can be an important part of the process. In many circumstances however the Coroner can decide that a Post Mortem does not need to be carried out. This is usually in situations where a conclusive biopsy was taken during the person’s lifetime (for example in relation to mesothelioma).
In our experience the Coroner’s Officers will deal with the situation with great sensitivity and speed in order to allow the funeral or cremation to be held in accordance with your wishes. In some cases the Coroner may hold a ‘read only’ Inquest if they are satisfied as to the cause of death. This means that no one else needs to attend the Inquest. The Coroner will usually obtain medical reports before the read only Inquest occurs and will consider these beforehand. Often Inquests into deaths due to industrial disease are much less formal.
An Inquest is opened a few days after the death. This allows the death to be recorded and the Deceased to be formally identified. The Coroner will issue an Interim Death Certificate to relatives so that they can start sorting out the Deceased’s estate.
When the Coroner is satisfied that all the material and witnesses required for the enquiry have been gathered a date for the hearing of the Inquest can be set.
If someone has passed away without making a statement as to the circumstances of their exposure to asbestos, or solicitors have not previously been instructed, the family may be asked to provide a summary of the Deceased’s employment history and any likely asbestos exposure. The Coroner often reads out this statement and can ask the family questions.
If you have instructed solicitors more often than not they will be more than willing to accompany you to the Inquest. Alternatively a member of the HASAG team will also be willing to provide support if and where possible.
It is important to remember that Inquests are held in public and it is worth bearing in mind that the press may be there and have a right to report on the proceedings.
At the end of the Inquest the Coroner reaches a ‘Conclusion’. There are a number of conclusions that the Coroner may consider. In relation to asbestos related illnesses the most common conclusion is industrial disease.
The Conclusion at an Inquest is not a deciding factor in any compensation claims but the evidence may be a powerful influence on the outcome of any civil claim.
Once a conclusion has been reached the coroner will issue the final Death Certificate and the relatives can then officially register the death.
Sadly Inquests are often an unavoidable consequence of deaths from asbestos related diseases and although a difficult process with the help and support of your solicitor and HASAG and the thoughtfulness and empathy shown by the Coroners and their officers it is hoped that the process can be as straightforward and pain free as possible.
Lorraine Creech, Mesothelioma UK CNS Team Leader said
Can I say how helpful the posts have been about the role of the coroner and inquests. Great to have it all in plain English for when we are advising patients and relatives.