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Inquests, post-mortems and other things family go through after a fatal accident

Minster Law

A death which arises from a road traffic accident is sudden and unexpected, loved ones are often left with a void, having had no time to prepare for the loss we wanted to share some of the thing’s family members may be left dealing with following a fatal accident.

On roads across the UK five people on average die every single day.

The family members left with the loss of a loved one are thrown into a world of inquests and police investigations, understanding what comes next during one of the worst experiences of their lives can be difficult.

In 2019, 1,748 people were killed – 43% were car occupants, 26% were pedestrians, 19% were motorcyclists and 6% were pedal cyclists.

While the rate seems lower for motorcyclists, they were killed at a rate of 113 people per billion miles travelled, compared to 1.8 car passengers per billion miles.

People between the age of 24 and 60 make up the largest portion, 47%, of those killed on UK roads.

Organ donation

Many people killed in an accident may already be signed up to the organ donation register, but their wishes aren’t always known.

Medical staff may ask the person’s family to consider organ donation.

It can be a challenging thing to comprehend, having just received the worst news of their lives.

Families are not pressured either way and support is available to talk about the possible options.

Organ donation has the ability to save and enhance several people’s lives, but there are reasons and beliefs which make people choose not to go down this route.

In certain cases where police are investigating the accident as a serious crime, it may not be possible to engage in organ donation as evidence of injuries may be needed.

For more information on organ donation visit www.organ donation.nhs.uk


Following a tragic death on the road a post-mortem, or autopsy, is typically carried out on the body, to understand the nature and cause of a person’s death.

The report from the post-mortem will form part of the police investigation, as if criminal charges are made it is necessary to prove the collision caused the injuries which resulted in death.

A post-mortem will be carried out as soon as possible, usually within 2 to 3 working days of a person’s death.

Depending when the examination takes place, it may be possible for family to see the body before the post-mortem is carried out.

Coroner’s Inquest

A coroner is a judge who investigates, among other things, violent or unnatural deaths and a road death is just that.

The purpose of an inquest is to determine how the person has been killed, not to find guilt or apportion blame.

There will usually be a number of individuals who give evidence at an inquest, including the pathologist, police officers, witnesses and drivers involved.

Family members of the victim are able to attend and can have legal representation with them to help with asking any questions they may have.

The process can be uncomfortable and impersonal and lead to more questions than answers.

Associate solicitor Mark Ellis has represented families at coroner inquests and said they can be particularly emotive hearings, particularly because often the person family blame for the accident is present.

“Quite often the police are going through evidence the family may not have been aware of, with the level of detail police can go into.

“It can be quite an upsetting day, but it’s one the family always want to be part of because it helps them try and understand what has happened.”

He said the uncomfortable details were necessary for the coroner to help them come to a conclusive finding.

“Many of these deaths can be seen as preventable had the road user taken more care.”

For Mark one particular inquest, where the defendant had been using a mobile phone, mounted the pavement and killed a pedestrian, it was a traumatic experience.

“The defendant was there, and he wasn’t particularly remorseful, and it was a very traumatic experience for the family.”
He said they’re never easy hearings but at that particular inquest press were also in attendance and emotions were running high.

“They are very important, but at the same time it’s a day families wish they never had to be part of.”

Bereavement support

Mark said any accident with a fatality is life changing and turns the family’s world completely upside down and it’s very difficult for people to come to terms with.

“Quite often they never ever come to terms with it.”

Talking and sharing your feelings with someone can help.

While some people find the support of family and friends the best way to cope there are also bereavement services available to help across the country.

Your GP or the Chaplaincy Team at the hospital are able to put you in contact with bereavement services in your local area.

There are people available who can provide real support coping with the traumatic events and loss.

For more information on our National Road Victim Month campaign click here.

This week we will be sharing the reality of fatal road accidents and the impact they have on those left behind.