“How much evidentiary value does a death certificate have?”

This was the intriguing question posed by The Florida Probate Litigation Blog in this post.

The death certificate is such a mundane part of the genesis of all probated estates that I never stopped to consider the weight of its contents in a contested case.

In [the below-described case] a death certificate was used to obtain a summary judgment ruling disposing of a wrongful death claim. The trial court was reversed on appeal based on the following black letter Florida law:

In granting summary judgment, the trial judge apparently gave conclusive effect to the death certificate and disregarded the opinion of Appellants’ expert. This was error. A death certificate is prima facie proof of the “fact, place, date, and time of death as well as the identity of the decedent.” § 731.103(2), Fla. Stat. (2007). It does not constitute prima facie proof of the cause of death, nor does it create conclusive proof of any fact related to the death. As it relates to the cause of death, it simply states the ultimate opinion of the attesting physician. When, as here, a conflicting medical opinion on causation is offered, summary judgment is not appropriate.

Death certificates may be necessary to your case, but they are rarely sufficient to get the job done in contested proceedings.

Interesting facts, and possibly good advice… I’m looking into the state of the law in Ohio on this one and I’ll let you know what I find.

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