Terms & Definitions

Cause of Death

The disease or injury that initiates a chain of events, brief or prolonged, which produces a fatal outcome.

Mechanism of Death

The final physiologic derangement, incompatible with continued life, produced by the cause of death, e.g. sepsis, respiratory depression, cardiac dysrhythmia, etc.

Manner of Death

A classification of the way in which the cause of death came about, specifically, natural, homicidal, suicidal or accidental.

Natural Death

Death due to natural causes, i.e. due to a spontaneous or naturally occurring disease or degenerative process.

Accidental Death

Unnatural death where there is no evidence of intent to cause harm.


Unnatural death resulting from a purposeful action, explicit or implicit, taken to end one’s life.


Unnatural death resulting from the killing of one person by another (regardless of justification).

Manner Undetermined

The ruling applied when insufficient evidence or information was adduced (usually about intent) to assign a manner of death.