What is a Medical Examiner
A Medical Examiner is a physician with particular expertise in investigating violent, sudden, and unexpected, suspicious, or unattended deaths.
What is the specific jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner?
According to Florida Statute 406.11, in the district in which the death occurred or where the body was found, the Medical Examiner must determine the cause of death when a person dies from the following:
- Criminal violence
- Accident, suicide, or poison
- Suddenly, when in apparent good health
- Unattended by a practicing physician or other recognized practitioner
- In any prison or penal institution
- In any suspicious or unusual circumstance
- By criminal abortion
- By disease constituting a threat to public health
- By disease, injury, or toxic agent resulting from employment
For deaths that occur in one of these categories, the Medical Examiner also has the authority to perform whatever autopsies or laboratory examinations that are deemed to be in the public interest.
What about bodies that are going to be cremated or buried at sea?
Deaths involving cremation, burial at sea, donation to science, or removal of the body from the State, must first be referred to the Medical Examiner for approval. The Medical Examiner reviews the cause of death information to ensure that jurisdiction under the Florida Statute does not exist. Transportation of the deceased to the department is usually not required if the death did not involve trauma.
What happens when a death is first reported to the Medical Examiner?
Information concerning medical history, history of injury, and the circumstances preceding the death is gathered to determine whether or not jurisdiction exists. If a death is solely the result of natural disease and a doctor is available to sign a death certificate, the funeral home or crematory may transport the deceased directly to its facility. If any of the circumstances described in the statute exist, the Medical Examiner will investigate the death.
How is the body transported to the Medical Examiner?
A private contractor transports bodies to the Medical Examiner facility. Contractor dispatchers answer calls made to the investigative section after hours.
Transport personnel are not County employees; however, comments concerning the quality of service should be made to the Medical Examiner’s Manager of Operations at (813) 914-4500.
Why is the Medical Examiner investigating a death in which there was no criminal action?
Criminal violence is only one of the categories requiring Medical Examiner investigation. More than 80 percent of this type of investigation involves accidental deaths and natural deaths for which no doctor is available to sign a death certificate.
Why is it necessary to investigate the expected death of someone who died under the care of a doctor in a hospital or other health care facility?
Because there is often a delay – sometimes years – between injury and death, it is easy to overlook an accident or other trauma that caused the condition for which the decedent was being treated when death occurred. For example, an individual who fell, broke a hip, developed pneumonia and died would require Medical Examiner investigation because the underlying cause of the pneumonia was a fall – an accidental event.
If the cause of death is obvious, such as a traffic accident, why must the Medical Examiner investigate?
What appears to be obvious may not be the true cause of death. Only a thorough investigation will reveal whether the “obvious” traffic accident death was caused by a heart attack, carbon monoxide poisoning, or some event other than the apparent impact injuries.
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is an intricate post-mortem medical procedure often requiring complex laboratory tests. It includes examination of all major organs to document injury, disease, or the lack thereof. An autopsy does not interfere with viewing the deceased.
Is an autopsy always necessary?
An autopsy is not normally required when the death is known to be the result of natural causes, adequate medical history exists, and there are no signs of foul play. The Medical Examiner usually investigates these deaths because either the attending physician is not available to sign the death certificate or funds are not available to bury the deceased.
Autopsy results are used to determine the cause of death and, in criminal cases, to establish the material facts. Additionally, this procedure may document previously undiagnosed diseases that may have a tendency to be inherited. It also provides vital information to families filing insurance and other claims.
What if I want an autopsy to be performed or I object to an autopsy?
If jurisdiction under Florida Statute 406.11 does not exist, the Medical Examiner will not conduct an autopsy. In this situation, the family may have an autopsy performed by either a hospital or a private pathologist.
If the next of kin objects to an autopsy when jurisdiction exists, the Medical Examiner will often accommodate the objection if it does not compromise the public interest. However, autopsies required to determine the cause of death will be conducted.
What do I need to do while the medical examiner is investigating a death?
Usually, all you need to do is select a funeral home or crematory. The funeral director will take care of the remaining details. An investigator may contact you for information concerning the medical history of the deceased, funeral arrangements, date of birth, social security number, and similar information.
When will I be able to schedule funeral arrangements?
Rarely will an investigation by the Medical Examiner delay funeral arrangements. Caseload permitting, same-day release is typical for bodies received by midmorning. Occasionally, law enforcement investigation or identification requirements may delay release until additional information has been obtained.
What if I don’t have the money to make funeral arrangements?
Many funeral homes have basic packages and will work with families to accommodate special circumstances. If reaching out to local funeral homes does not produce acceptable results, contact a Medical Examiner Investigator at (813) 914-4567 to discuss your options.
When is a legal identification required, and what constitutes a legal identification?
A legal identification is required for all deaths involving possible criminal charges. This is usually accomplished by viewing a photograph, preferably by an acquaintance of the deceased rather than a family member, at the Medical Examiner’s office.
Additionally, all bodies that cannot be identified due to injury or decomposition require identification by fingerprints, dental records, or other x-rays.
Identification based on clothing, jewelry, or similar presumptive evidence does not constitute legal identification. Under certain circumstances, release for final arrangements may be delayed while legal identification is pursued.
May I view the body at the Medical Examiner’s office?
The Medical Examiner’s office is not staffed to accommodate viewing requests. A photograph is used when identification of a body is required.
What happens to the deceased’s personal effects?
If at all possible, valuables and other personal effects are not transported to the Medical Examiner’s office. All such items, except clothing, are removed at the scene, inventoried, and given to a law enforcement officer, health care worker, friend, or family member. Except for evidence, items transported to the Medical Examiner’s office are released to the funeral home or crematory with the deceased.
When can I find out the cause of death?
The cause of death can be obtained as soon as the investigation has been completed, often on the day the body was brought to the Medical Examiner. Investigative inquiries can be made by calling (813) 914-4567 between 8 AM to 5 PM, daily.
How may I obtain a copy of the autopsy report?
A completed autopsy report can be obtained by mailing a brief letter of request containing the name of the decedent and the date of death, and a stamped, self-addressed business-sized envelope (with two first-class stamps affixed) to the Medical Examiner, 11025 N. 46th St., Tampa, FL 33617-2000. The reports are usually available 18 weeks after the death.
Autopsy reports may also be requested online by sending an email to the ME Records Request. Administrative inquires can be made by calling (813) 914-4500, Monday-Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM.
How do I obtain a copy of the death certificate?
Copies of the death certificate are available from either the funeral director or the local State Vital Records Office at (813) 307-8002. View our page Get a Death Certificate for more information on this topic.
What is the contact information for the Medical Examiners Office
- Address: Hillsborough County Medical Examiner
11025 N. 46 St.
Tampa, FL 33617-2000
- Administration: (813) 914-4500
Fax: (813) 914-4594
- Investigation: (813) 914-4567
Fax: (813) 914-4596
- Address: Hillsborough County Medical Examiner
Medical Examiner FAQs
Answers to some frequently asked questions about the Medical Examiner