ERIE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH OFFICE OF THE MEDICAL EXAMINER
MISSION: To provide regionalized death investigation services to Western New York Counties to determine the cause and manner of a person’s demise.
INFORMATION FOR FAMILIES
This pamphlet had been compiled by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office to offer some helpful insights and suggestions for the families we serve.
Tara J. Mahar, MD
Chief Medical Examiner
Katherine F. Maloney, MD
Associate Chief Medical Examiner
Janinne Blank, MBA, RN
What is a Medical Examiner’s Office and what do they do?
A Medical Examiner’s Office is a medicolegal office charged by state laws to investigate certain types of human death. Forensic pathologists, physicians with specialty training review records, conduct investigations and perform autopsies to determine the cause and manner of death in these cases.
Which deaths must be examined and investigated?
The medical examiner is required by New York State County Law section 673 to examine and investigate deaths that:
- appear to be violent – e.g. motor vehicle accident, industrial accident, fall, homicide, etc.
- are caused by an unlawful act or criminal neglect
- are suspicious or unexplained
- are suspected to be caused by a criminal abortion
- are unattended by a physician or no physician is able to certify the cause of death
- are of a person confined in a public institution other than a hospital, infirmary or nursing home
What does “cause of death” mean?
The cause of death is the disease or injury that caused the physical death.
What does “manner of death” mean?
The manner of death describes the circumstances surrounding the death. The manners of death are classified into one of the following:
- Investigation Pending (in certain situations), this then needs to be changed to one of the above categories.
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is a medical examination of the body after death. The body is examined externally and internally to discover the cause and manner of death. Specimens of organs and body fluids may be taken to make a medical diagnosis. This diagnosis may take weeks to finalize. Each body is treated with the utmost dignity and respect at all times. Autopsies are usually performed Monday through Saturday.
Is family consent needed for an autopsy to be performed?
No. Autopsies performed at the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office are required by New York State law and do not require consent from next-of-kin.
If a death appears natural, why is the Medical Examiner involved?
The Medical Examiner has jurisdiction when: the death was unexpected and no medical cause of death can be determined; when the decedent was not under the care of a physician; when a death might be due to something considered a public health hazard; or when a private doctor will not sign the death certificate.
Will the family be charged for an autopsy?
Autopsies are performed at no cost to the family.
Will organ or tissue donation be possible if a case is accepted by the Medical Examiner’s Office?
The Medical Examiner’s Office supports efforts to promote organ and tissue donation.
Can there be an open casket after an autopsy?
An autopsy does not disfigure the body in any way that will prevent the family from having an open casket; however the circumstances surrounding the death must be taken into consideration.
After the autopsy, how are arrangements made for the release of the body?
The funeral director, chosen by the family, will contact the Medical Examiner’s Office and make all the necessary arrangements for the release of the body and transport to the funeral home. The body will be released after the examination is complete.
What happens to personal property of the Deceased?
Personal property is inventoried and given to the funeral director to give to the family member making the arrangements. In some cases, the police will secure the property.
Why is a death certificate necessary?
A death certificate is needed to bury/cremate remains, claim insurance, receive government benefits, settle estates and pursue any civil or criminal legal actions.
Can death certificates be obtained from the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office?
No, the original death certificate is filed by the funeral director in the Registrars Office respective to where they passed away. Next of kin and others legally entitled to them may obtain them from the Registrar’s Office in the city/village/town where the death occurred or from the funeral director at a cost of $10 each. More information can be obtained through New York State Vital Statistics at 1-877-854-4481 or http://www.health.state.ny.us/vital_records/.
What does it mean if the death certificate reads “Pending Investigation?”
“Pending Investigation” means that the case is incomplete and additional work and investigation is necessary. The body can still be released and arrangements made. This will be amended when the investigation is complete and the final cause and manner of death have been determined.
Who may obtain a copy of the autopsy report?
Pursuant to county law section 677, autopsy records are open to:
- The District Attorney of the County
- The personal representative, spouse or next-of-kin, or child over 18 years of age
- Upon proper application of any person who is or may be affected in a civil or criminal action by the contents of the record of any investigation, an order may be made by a court of record, or by a justice of the Supreme Court, that the record of that investigation be made available for his/her inspection, or that a transcript there be furnished to him/her, or both.
- Upon proper application of any person having a substantial interest therein, an order may be made by a court of record, or by a justice of the Supreme Court, that the record of that investigation be made available for his/her inspection, or that a transcript there be furnished to him/her, or both.
How is an autopsy report requested and how much does one cost?
An autopsy report can be obtained by the family at no cost by writing the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office at 501 Kensington Ave, Buffalo, NY 14214. All requests must include:
- Name, address and phone number
- The name of the deceased and the date of death
- The relationship to the deceased
- The signature of requesting party
- It may need to be notarized
Or you may use the form found on the last page of this packet
All others/non-relations (lawyers, insurance companies, etc.) will be charged a $38.50 fee effective January 1, 2009.
How long does it take to obtain an autopsy report?
The length of time varies from case to case. After an autopsy is performed and laboratory tests are required, it generally takes up to 120 days for the final report. Complicated cases may take several months.
Can a neighbor call up and find out information about a death?
Information is strictly confidential and not a matter of public record.
Where is the Medical Examiner’s Office located?
The office is located at 501 Kensington Ave, Buffalo, on the campus of the Erie County Medical Center. If driving, enter through Gate 1 off of Grider Street. Follow this road through the first stop sign. At the second stop sign, take a left. Follow this road for about 0.1 miles to a stop sign. You will see large white oxygen tanks on your left hand side. The driveway for the Erie Medical Examiner’s Office is on the left immediately after the stop sign and before the tanks. Take this left.
Are support groups available to help our family through this?
This is a difficult time and resources are available in the community. A list of community agencies that offer support is attached or you may go online to: http://www.erie.gov/depts/seniorservices/caregiving/caregiver_groups.asp or http://www.211wny.org/Erie-County/Service-Category-List/category.aspx?category=Support_Groups_Grief. There are many decisions to be made and people are available to assist you.
When a loved one dies what needs to be done?
- When you are notified of a death, call a friend, family member and/or clergy member for support.
- Select a funeral home to assist you with preparations. Check with friends, neighbors or your local phone book for your selection.
- Remember, the funeral home will contact the Medical Examiner’s office and take care of the release of the body
- Start a list and a file with information given to you and the names and phone numbers of the people you will be talking with.
- Remember to try to eat something and try to rest. Let your family and friends help you!
What if a family objects to an autopsy?
By law, families cannot object to an autopsy that is deemed necessary by the Medical Examiner. As a courtesy to family, they will be given a 48 hour window in which to obtain a court order to stop an autopsy; however the objection must be submitted in writing to the Medical Examiner’s Office (fax 961-7581). In certain cases, a partial/limited autopsy may be performed at the discretion of the Medical Examiner.
The staff at the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office hopes this information will be useful to you. Please contact the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office at (716) 961-7591 if you have additional concerns that have not been addressed.
Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs
If not disposed of properly, prescription and over-the-counter medications pose a hazard to our environment and risk getting into the hands of children or others who may be unintentionally harmed by their use.
Residents are encouraged to go through their medicine cabinets, closets, junk drawers, etc. and gather unused, expired and unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications. Go to http://www2.erie.gov/health/sites/www2.erie.gov.health/files/uploads/pdfs/ESAPDualSites.pdf to find a site where medications can be disposed of free of charge with no questions asked.
Trauma Scene Waste Management
24 Hour 1-877-493-4605
Professional Trauma Scene Cleaning
24 Hour Emergency Dispatch
3 Hour response time
213 Foothills Dr.
Murrayville, GA 30564
24 Hour 1-800-860-4268
24 Hour Emergency Dispatch
Crime Scene Clean-Up
24 Hour Hotline
Crime & Trauma Scene Eraser
131 Burke Dr.
Cheektowaga, NY 14215
24 Hour (716) 835-1393, 361-2824
Disaster Restoration Services
14 Roberts Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14206
Fax (716) 826-6975
Crime and Death Scene Recovery
Biohazardous Cleaning Services
52 Miriam Ave.
Blasdell, NY 14219
24 Hour (716) 440-8071
On the Scene
Bio-Recovery Services of WNY
24 Hour Discreet Response
Biohazard and Fire & Water – Cleanup & Restoration
Post Office Box 42
North Tonawanda, NY 14120-0042
24 Hour (716) 694-SPRO (7776)
Spotless Touch Crime Scene Cleaners
Crime, Unattended & Death Clean-up
P.O. Box 425
Buffalo, NY 14207
24 Hour Emergency Dispatch
Stratus Building Solutions
1780 Wehrle Drive, Suite 102
Williamsville, New York 14221
Grief Support Groups
Mutual support groups whose members are people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. The groups meet in-person, by telephone or via the Internet; and focus on helping participants accept their loss, express their grief, move through the bereavement process and put their lives back together.
For a list of grief support groups go to http://www.erie.gov/depts/seniorservices/caregiving/caregiver_groups.asp or http://www.211wny.org/Erie-County/Service-Category-List/category.aspx?category=Support_Groups_Grief.
AUTOPSY REPORT REQUEST
MEDICAL EXAMINER’S OFFICE
501 KENSINGTON AVE.
BUFFALO, NEW YORK 14214
Autopsy reports may be requested by immediate next-of-kin. All requests must be notarized and mailed to the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office at the above address. Faxed, e-mailed or copied requests will not be accepted. Autopsy reports will be mailed to the address provided below.
I, (Print Name)__________________________________________, am requesting a copy of the Autopsy Report from the Erie County
Medical Examiner’s Office for
(Deceased’s Name)_________________________________________ who passed away on (Date) __________________ .
My relationship to the deceased is: __________________________________________
Report to be mailed to:
(City, State, Zip)__________________________________________
Notary use only below this line
STATE OF _________________________________
COUNTY OF ________________________________
Sworn to me on this ______ day of __________, in the year 20 ____
Notary Public Printed Name:_________________________________
My Commission Expires: ___________________