Pulmonary thromboembolism is an often fatal complication of venous thrombosis. Any component or combination of the components composing Virchow's triad (venostasis, hypercoagulatlility, and endothelial damage) increases the propensity for a thrombophilic state. Hypercoagulable states may be inherited or acquired. While the etiology in many cases may be evident either on physical examination or on evaluation of the decedent's medical history, this is often not the case. We conducted a retrospective study of cases presenting to the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner's Office in Birmingham, Alabama, who were given a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. A search of cases within the past 23 years yielded 81 cases. An underlying cause was determined in 70 cases (86%). The remaining 11 (14%) cases had no identifiable cause. We believe that a number of these cases may represent an underlying thrombophilic disorder. Since these disorders may be of an inherited or acquired nature, the determination, of an etiology may be relevant to the decedent's family. Postmortem blood analyses may in selected cases be useful and appropriate for the detection of some of these disorders. However, such analyses are not practical in all cases, with each case having to be evaluated on its own merits.