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Empower and support Life and Health Insurance organizations through experiential training, intellectual inputs and medically apt cum legally sound opinions.
Peephole

January 2010

 

Dr C H Asrani

Unnatural deaths: Assessment

Assessment of a case where unnatural death is declared/ suspected, must be carried out meticulously, since the subsequent course of the case and its success or failure at a legal forum, essentially depends upon its proper execution.

Unfortunately, such an important step is generally the most neglected part of any such assessment/ investigation process. It is quite often left entirely to the inspired guesswork when it should be guided by those with seasoned experience and adept at knowledge of forensic science.

For rational assessment of such a case, one must possess a hawk’s eye to identify minor discrepancies between the inquest, police report, post mortem report and the claimant’s version as all the reports are prepared much before the claimant tries to mask/ modify the trail.

Few tips from X-CLAIM would definitely help -

    As mentioned, unnatural deaths can be classified into those due to
  • Natural causes
  • Unnatural causes

Unnatural deaths attributable to NATURAL causes - may sound strange but includes conditions wherein forces of nature have played a role. Most of such claims are payable, of course after confirming truthfulness of the claim.

  • Death due to heat stroke
  • Death due to cold and exposure
  • Death due to floods
  • Death due to earthquake
  • Death due to cyclone/ tornado
  • Death due to starvation/ thirst
  • Death due to landslide

Unnatural deaths attributable to UNNATURAL causes - Claimants label most of such deaths as ‘accidental deaths’. Such ‘Accidental Deaths’ due to Un-Natural Causes are mainly on account of

  • Road Accidents (36.2%),
  • Asphyxia due to drowning and hanging (10.7%)
  • Poisoning (7.7%)
  • Railway Accidents and Railroad accidents (7.4%)
  • Fire Accidents’ (7.0%) and
  • Sudden, unexplained, Deaths (4.8%).

Examples of unnatural deaths are

TYPE OF DEATH
INSURANCE PERSPECTIVE
Suicide Important issue for life insurance
Homicide Only Important from claimant’s involvement
Infanticide NOT Important issue for life insurance
Death within 24 hours of admission to hospital Very Important issue for life insurance as medical cause of death usually not known; challenge for assessor
Dowry deaths. Important issue for life insurance as may be suicidal
Death or disability due to vehicular accidents Important issue for life insurance if accident disability rider is applicable. Needs assessor to be sharp to differentiate intentional/ accidental
Death or disability due to Machinery accidents
Death or disability due to Industrial accidents
Death due to Burns Important issue for life insurance if early claim (suicide cause applicable)
Death due to Bomb explosions Usually payable
Death due to poisoning Important issue for life insurance to evaluate intentional vs accidental
Death due to hanging Important issue for life insurance to evaluate intentional vs accidental vs homicidal
Death due to strangulation Important issue for life insurance to evaluate true strangulation vs hanging
Death due to suffocation Important issue for life insurance to evaluate mechanical / chemical
Death due to Drowning Important issue for life insurance to evaluate intentional vs accidental
Death due to Starvation Usually payable but very rare
Death due to fall from height Important issue for life insurance to evaluate intentional vs accidental
Death due to medical negligence Important issue for general insurance if treating doctors has indemnity cover. Usually payable if life cover
Death due to anaesthesia
Death on operation table
Post operative death
Death in mental hospital Important issue for life insurance as pre existing illness in most cases; very rare
Death during police firing etc. Usually payable except LA being the accused

Some important info about..

INQUEST
Inquest literally means to seek into i.e., to look into i.e. to find out. Currently coroner’s inquest is not conducted in India; in most cases police inquest is held.

POLICE INQUEST - Police inquest is defined as the inquest carried out by a police officer, not below the rank of head constable, such police officer (P.O.) is known as investigation officer (I.O.). Police inquest is the commonest inquest in India and is carried out throughout the country, except indications for magistrate’s inquest.

Procedure - On information of a dead body, the P.O. notes the details in daily (DD) register, informs the nearest executive magistrate and himself proceeds to the place where the dead respectable Witnesses (Known as panchas). He examines the dead body and collects information about the dead and then he prepares the inquest report, known as Panchnama. (If the deceased is a female, it is necessary to have an additional female panch).

    PANCHNAMA includes:
  • Name, age, sex and address of the people who have given information about the dead body.
  • Name, age, sex and address of the people who identify the dead body.
  • Name, age, sex and address of the panchas.
  • Name, age, sex and address and identification marks of the dead.
  • The place where the dead body is lying.
  • Direction and position of the dead body.
  • Surrounding s of the dead body. Ideally the scene should be photographed from various angles, alternatively a sketch is prepared.
  • Any items, especially weapon or poison present on or near the body.
  • List of clothes -torn, burnt, any stains or any typical smell.
  • Condition of the clothes -torn, burnt, any stains or any typical smell.
  • Pocket contents - specially a suicide note.
  • Condition of body and skin.
  • Injuries and fractures on the body.
  • Condition of natural orifices - any foreign body or discharge present.
  • Cause of death as judged by I.O. and panchas.
  • Time since death as judged by I.O. and panchas.
  • Manner of death, as judged by I.O. and panchas .i.e. whether the death is natural or unnatural and if unnatural whether it is suicidal homicidal or accidental.
  • Reason for sending the dead body for P.M. (if being sent).
  • Signature of the police officer and panchas.

POST MORTEM REPORT - In cases where foul play is suspected or where the PO deems fit a post mortem is asked for. It is examining the dead body to ascertain the cause of death. If after the PM cause is not apparent, then certain viscera are sent for chemical analysis for common poisons including alcohol. If any organ is suspected to have caused the death, it is sent for histopathological examination.

Examining all the 3 above-mentioned reports, helps an assessor form 2-3 hypotheses and analysis by someone conversant with forensic medicine and relevant legal aspects helps take a decision.

A strong case is made for creation/ adoption of a process wherein a medical consultant with deep insights into forensic medicine plays the pivotal role and leads the "unnatural death investigation team".

Click here for X-CLAIM solution to empower claims team in handling Unnatural deaths.