Purpose: The aim of the study is to examine the validity of manner of death (MOD) certification of unnatural adult deaths by Ontario coroners.
Methods: A census of 306 active coroners practicing in Ontario was performed, with data collection occurring in 2002. Mailed self-administered questionnaires contained 14 fictitious clinicopathologic scenarios and questions regarding demographic information of the coroner. Crude and adjusted odds ratios of correct MOD certification were calculated by using responses of two deputy chief coroners as the gold standard.
Results: Nearly 74% of coroners responded to the survey. Deaths from hanging, drowning, and carbon monoxide had better odds of being certified correctly; whereas deaths from heroin, over-the-counter medication, and injuries from a descent had decreased odds of being certified correctly. Scenarios including a prior suicide attempt or a note had greater odds of correct MOD certification than those with only depression. Accidental deaths were underreported when injury resulted in a "natural" lethal complication and when there was a delay between injury and death.
Conclusions: In detailing which deaths are likely to be misclassified and how they may be misclassified, this study will allow future research to more accurately assess suicidal and accidental deaths.