he use of medical testimony in law cases predates by more than 1,000 years the first systematic presentation of the subject by the Italian Fortunate Fidelis in 1598. Forensic medicine was recognized as a specialty early in the 19th century.
The primary tool of forensic medicine has always been the autopsy. Frequently used for identification of the dead, autopsies may also be conducted to determine the cause of death. In cases of death caused by a weapon, for example, the forensic pathologist—by examining the wound—can often provide detailed information about the type of weapon used as well as important contextual information. (In a death by gunshot, for example, he can determine with reasonable accuracy the range and angle of fire.) Forensic medicine is a major factor in the identification of victims of disaster, such as landslide or plane crash. In cause-of-death determinations, forensic pathologists can also significantly affect the outcome of trials dealing with insurance and inheritance.