As I tell the Coroner's Jury at Inquest in their instructions, the verdict of manner of death is a multiple-choice question. There are 5 choices, although since natural deaths do not go to inquest they have 4 choices. For the most part the choices are self-explanatory, do not over-lap, and should be evident in the testimony given during the inquest. The choices are accidental, homicide, suicide, and undetermined.
Undetermined is chosen as the verdict when, based on the evidence presented, the manner can not be categorized into one of the other “manners”.
Suicide is an intentional act to cause one’s own death.
Accidental death is death due to an unexpected or unplanned event.
Homicide is death due to an intentional or reckless act of another. This is not to be confused with criminal “homicide”, which is a charge brought through the legal system assigning blame to an individual. The Coroner’s Inquest (jury) does not assess or assign blame to any individual.
Some of the toughest decision making that the jury has to deal with is deciding whether an individual’s action resulting in another’s death was negligent (therefore an accidental death) or reckless (therefore homicide). The jury must consider what an individual, or a “reasonable individual in that person’s place”, thought or should have thought at the time of the incident. A negligent act occurs when an individual, or a “reasonable individual in that person’s place”, is unaware or does not consider that their action may cause the death of another individual. An example would be reaching down to pick up your cell phone off the floor of the car as you are driving, resulting in you taking your eyes off the road and crashing your car into someone else with their death as a result. A reckless act is one in which an individual, or a “reasonable individual in that person’s place”, consciously disregards that their action will result in another individual’s death. An example of that would be firing a handgun into a crowd of people resulting in someone’s death.
The jury’s deliberation likely dwells most on the decision of manner of death, because their other decision, the cause of death, is even more evident in the testimony by those involved in the death investigation. The manner of death is the most important decision that they make and while it is most often obvious, it is at times emotion charged and difficult to characterize. Their decision is then memorialized on the final death certificate.