If you’ve lost a family member in an accident caused by someone else, especially if they were negligent, as a surviving family member, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable person. In order to effectively prove your claims, you’ll need to present evidence to their insurance carrier, which may include an autopsy report or a death certificate. Using the correct document could be a determining factor in whether or not your claim is successful.

florida death certificates

A Florida wrongful death lawyer with Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath is ready to help you with the difficult and emotional process of a wrongful death lawsuit. Please contact us online or call us at (561) 655-1990 to schedule a free consultation.

In the meantime, keep reading to learn about the differences between an autopsy report and a death certificate so you know which one you will need for your case. 

What is a death certificate?

death certificate florida

A death certificate is a document that simply provides legal proof that a person has passed away. It contains the deceased’s basic identifying information, the date of their death, and information regarding their occupation, marital status, parents’ names, and location of death among other things. 

The death certificate also has a section that’s completed by either a medical examiner or a certifying physician which states the immediate cause of death, any conditions or circumstances that led to that cause of death, other information regarding the death including the location, if it was a result of an injury, and more.


This section will be completed even if an autopsy wasn’t done, such as if the death appears to be due to natural causes, there’s adequate medical history provided and available, and there’s no indications of foul play. 

What is an autopsy report?

Although a death certificate contains a cause of death and relevant medical information, an autopsy report is an in-depth report which details the thorough investigation of why or how a person died. 

There are several situations when an autopsy is required, including if the death occurred in any of the following ways:

  • Criminal violence or in an otherwise traumatic manner
  • By suicide
  • Suddenly when in apparent good health
  • Unattended by a practicing physician or practitioner
  • In any prison or penal institution or in police custody
  • In any suspicious or unusual circumstance
  • If the body is brought into the state without proper medical certifications
  • When a body is to be cremated, dissected, or buried at sea
  • A death related to childbirth or pregnancy 
  • If the deceased is a child under 1 year of age who appears to have died from SIDS
  • A death due to a workplace accident

Difference #1: Purpose of the Document

As legal proof that someone passed away, a death certificate has several uses and purposes, such as:

  • It must be filed with the probate court if the probate becomes and issue
  • Governmental agencies will use death certificates to stop certain payments such as Social Security
  • It will be used to handle the decedent’s property and estate 
  • Life insurance or other insurance policies will require a copy of the death certificate before any payments or death benefits can be issued, though sometimes they might require an autopsy report

Information from these certificates are sometimes used by the NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics) in order to help them track information regarding life expectancy, disease rates, death rates and others.

As the more detailed of the two documents, autopsy results are commonly used to determine the cause of death and are frequently used in criminal cases to establish the material facts. An autopsy report may also be used in a wrongful death action to establish the facts necessary to support your claims.

Autopsy reports and results can also provide important information to the deceased’s surviving family as to previously undiagnosed diseases that have a tendency to be inherited. 

Difference #2: Preparation

There are several types of professionals who may prepare a death certificate–it could be a doctor, a coroner, or the medical examiner of the county where the death occurred. The person preparing the certificate will first verify certain types of information with one of the deceased’s family members, and then file the document with the Florida Department of Health. After being reviewed by a state official, the certificate will receive a State of Florida official seal.

The county coroner or medical examiner will prepare an autopsy report after the examination and laboratory tests are complete.  The report will contain the findings of the examiner, including the results of any tests, as well as any of the examiner’s observations. 

Difference #3: Obtaining the Records

In Florida, any person over the age of 18 can obtain a copy of a death certificate without the cause of death. A complete death certificate, one where the cause of death isn’t redacted, may be provided to the following limited persons:

  • To the decedent’s spouse, parent, child, grandchild, or sibling (if 18 years of age or older)
  • To any person who provides a “Will” that’s been executed pursuant to state statute 732.502; an insurance policy or other document that demonstrates his or her interest in the estate of the decedent
  • To any person who provides documentation that he or she is acting on behalf of any of the above persons.

50 years following the date of death, “cause of death” becomes public information and anyone may obtain a death certificate with that information. 

Autopsy reports are public record and can be requested from the District Medical Examiner’s office in which the death occurred. Autopsy reports are provided to the immediate family for free, but any other person requesting a copy of the report will need to pay the fees associated with the report which will vary based on what the report entails.

Some aspects of the report won’t be provided if a criminal investigation is still ongoing. However, those files can be released when that investigation is complete. 

Did you lose a loved one in an accident? We can help.

The Florida wrongful death lawyers with Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath are ready to help you pursue legal action against those who were responsible for your loss, and subsequent suffering.

Please contact us online or call us at (561) 655-1990 to schedule a free consultation.