When a Death is Reported

  • Natural deaths may be certified by the decedent's family physician when the likely cause of death is known to the physician based on the decedent's medical history.
  • When the family physician cannot reach a decision regarding the cause of death within a reasonable degree of medical certainty and therefore cannot certify the death, the Coroner's Office assumes jurisdiction and begins further investigation.
  • Investigative methods may or may not include:
    • Interview with the decedent's physicians or other health care providers and/or review of medical records (Coroner's requests are exempt from the Health Information Patient Privacy Act {HIPPA}).
    • Scene examination.
    • External examination of the body.
    • Internal examination of the body (autopsy). This is generally concluded within 48 hours after recovery of the body.
      • Do not assume that because the Coroner's Office has taken jurisdiction of a case that an autopsy will be performed. In addition, although the Coroner's Office welcomes additional information that may have a bearing on determination of the cause of death and the decision to perform an autopsy, attempts to influence the decision to perform an autopsy for personal reasons are unlawful.
    • Blood, urine, and tissue evaluation for drugs, alcohol or other toxins (toxicology). Testing generally requires three to four weeks (or longer when initial results are inconclusive and confirmation tests are ordered).
    • Microscopic examination of tissue for injury or disease (histology).  Testing may require up to six weeks to complete.
    • Consultation with forensic experts and law enforcement may be required.
    • Coroner's Inquest is rarely required to obtain testimony from witnesses.
  • A Death Certificate will be issued within 48 hours following recovery of the body.
    • The cause and manner of death may be listed as "Pending Further Investigation" when a determination cannot be made based upon the initial investigation. These death certificates are generally sufficient to begin the settlement of an estate and are sent to the funeral home which the family has chosen.
    • A final death certificate cannot be issued until the investigation has been fully completed. Such death certificates are usually needed to settle insurance claims.
    • In situations where manner of death (natural, accident, suicide, or homicide) cannot be made with a high degree of certainty, the manner of death is stated as, "undetermined". Such deaths are reviewed on a yearly basis to assess whether further information has become apparent that will allow determination of the manner of death with certainty. The manner of death stated on a death certificate may only then be amended.
  • In the event a next-of-kin cannot be located jurisdiction will remain with the Coroner's Office and the decedent will be cremated with the cremains returned to the Coroner's Office. After a minimum of twelve months the cremains will interred at a location designated by the Coroner.
  • In circumstances where the family is unable to provide for disposition of a deceased, the Coroner's Office will assume jurisdiction for the decedent. The next-of-kin shall sign a waiver releasing the decedent to the Coroner. If after the signed waiver is received and the decedent is cremated, the next-of-kin would like to have the cremains returned to them, there will be a fee of $3,500 which shall be paid to the Coroner's Office. This must be done prior to the end of a twelve month period from the date of death.