Questions & Answers

What are the District Twelve Medical Examiner’s office hours?

For hours of operation at the three District Twelve offices, click here

Where is your office located?

For locations of our three offices, please click here. Please note that using GPS map/navigation services may not take you directly to either of the autopsy facilities – please refer to the included maps for guidance.

When does the medical examiner become involved in a death?

The medical examiner becomes involved in a death investigation (via notification by health care practitioners, law enforcement personnel, or others) when a death occurs that falls under certain circumstances.  These circumstances are defined by state law – in Florida, it is Florida Statute 406 –  and largely cover any deaths that are traumatic, criminal, or suspicious in nature, or a result of suicide or drug overdose.  Also included are deaths that are unattended, meaning not recently treated by a physician, even if they are apparently due to natural disease, as well deaths that appear to be natural but occur suddenly in a state of apparent good health.

How do I report a death?

Deaths are reported by calling our main administrative office, 941-361-6909.  After hours and on weekends and holidays, calls are answered by an answering service and forwarded to the on-call investigator.

Should all deaths be reported to the medical examiner’s office?

No.  Only deaths that fall under the circumstances delineated in Florida Statute 406.11 (for the statute, click here) need to be reported.  Deaths that are clearly natural with a Florida physician to sign the death certificate need not be reported.  If the nature of the death is unclear, i.e  you think it may be a medical examiner’s case but are unsure, it is better to report the death.

Do all reported deaths become medical examiner cases?

No.  After gathering the initial information, or at any point thereafter, the medical examiner investigator (consulting with the case medical examiner) may feel comfortable that no criteria from FS 406.11 is met and thus that there is no medical examiner jurisdiction to further investigate the death.  The medical examiner investigator will then decline jurisdiction, and the body may then be handled at the discretion of the next of kin, funeral director, or other responsible party.

When is a treating physician expected or required to sign a death certificate?

Signing the death certificate is considered the final act a physician can perform in the care of his or her patient.  If the medical examiner has declined jurisdiction, the attending physician (if hospitalized) or primary care physician is responsible for signing the death certificate.  Primary care physicians are responsible as long as the patient has a known medical condition that could cause death and they have treated that patient within the last year.  Note that treatment includes prescribing medications, even if the patient was not seen by the physician.  The treating physician and the medical examiner may disagree over whether the death is a medical examiner case, however, that determination ultimately rests with the medical examiner.

What if the attending or primary care physician refuses to sign the death certificate, even after the ME has declined jurisdiction?

After the ME has declined jurisdiction, it becomes the responsibility of the funeral director to ensure that the physician signs the death certificate.  Thus, when the physician refuses to sign, the funeral director generally contacts the medical examiner to discuss the issue.  The medical examiner will then re-evaluate that case and could decide to take jurisdiction based on new (if any) information, including any insights from the attending physician.  If the medical examiner still declines jurisdiction on the case, the Medical Examiner’s office will work with the funeral director, the family of the deceased, and the physician to get the death certificate signed in a timely fashion. Physicians who unreasonably refuse to sign can potentially be fined and/or disciplined.”

What does medical examiner investigation include?

Medical examiner investigation starts with evaluation of the background information, medical history and circumstances leading up to death.  In certain circumstances it may also include response by medical examiner personnel to the death scene.  Medical examiner investigation also entails examination of the body, which includes examination of the clothing and personal effects and the external surfaces of the body.  Autopsy is commonly, but not always, performed.   In criminal cases, medical examiner personnel work with law enforcement officers in the collection of evidence from a body.

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a postmortem (after death) examination of a body, including dissection of the tissues, internal organs, and other structures, in order to determine the cause of death, the manner of death and the extent and nature of injuries or natural diseases.  It may include retention of trace evidence, laboratory and toxicology testing of blood and body fluids, and microscopic examination (histology) of tissues.

Who performs the autopsy?

The autopsy is performed by the case medical examiner, with assistance from specialized autopsy technicians.

What is a medical examiner?

A medical examiner is a forensic pathologist, a medical doctor with specialized training in the field of death investigation and the performance of autopsies.  In District 12, all medical examiners are physicians licensed in the state of Florida and are board certified in Anatomic, Clinical, and Forensic Pathology.

What does it take to become a medical examiner?

Medical examiners must complete an undergraduate degree, graduate from medical school, complete a residency in Anatomic Pathology (most also complete a residency in Clinical Pathology), and then complete a fellowship in Forensic Pathology.  This takes, on average, 13 years.  Board certification requires completion of this educational track and then passing specialized examinations.

Is permission required to perform a medical examiner autopsy?

No.  Florida Statute 406 grants the medical examiner the authority and responsibility to perform autopsies as part of his or her death investigation, and permission from next of kin is not required.  In contrast, autopsies are sometimes performed for deaths in which families have unanswered questions about a death but the death is clearly not a medical examiner case.  These “private” or “hospital” autopsies do not involve the medical examiner and they DO require written permission from the next of kin.

What if there is an objection to having an autopsy performed, for example on religious grounds?

We will carefully consider the request and decide if it is possible to honor the request without compromising the death investigation.  The final decision rests with the medical examiner’s office and the Chief Medical Examiner.  Should the medical examiner decide that an autopsy is required even when an objection exists, we will make every effort to perform the autopsy in a way that meets the needs of the family as much as possible.

What happens to any valuables or other personal effects that come in with the body?

It is our goal to leave valuables with the family members prior to having the body transported to our facility, though this is not always possible.  When a body arrives with valuables, clothing, and other personal items, they are removed, cataloged, and released to the funeral home with the body for return to the family.  If the death is a homicide or other criminal case, these same personal items will likely be retained by the law enforcement agency as evidence and must be reclaimed from that agency.  For bodies that come in to the Sarasota Medical Examiner Facility, certain valuables are stored in the Sarasota Memorial Hospital safe, per hospital policy, and can be retrieved through the hospital Cashier’s Office, 941-917-2237.

How long after the autopsy will the body be ready for release?

In many cases, the body will be ready for release the same day of the autopsy.  If identification of the body is in question, release will be delayed until identification can be confirmed – depending on the means and available records for identification, this may take only a matter of hours, or sometimes several days.  If identification requires DNA analysis, it may take weeks.  Rarely, release may be delayed by the need for additional examination or analysis.  Questions regarding the availability for release should be directed to the case investigator.

How do I go about getting my loved one’s body released ?

Your local funeral home or crematory will be familiar with our operations and will assist you in getting the body released.  You will need to sign a release form indicating that you are the next of kin or other legally authorized person with authority to claim the body, and that you are authorizing the medical examiner’s office to release the body to the funeral home you have chosen.  Note that there are two different release forms, depending on what facility the body is in. Deaths occurring in either DeSoto or Sarasota Counties are at the Sarasota Medical Examiner Facility at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and require the Sarasota Body Release form – click here to download a copy. Deaths occurring in Manatee County are at the Manatee Medical Examiner Facility in Bradenton and require the Manatee Body Release form – that form can be downloaded here .

What does "Legally authorized person" mean when referring to release of bodies?

“Legally authorized person” means, in the priority listed:

  1. The decedent, when prearranged written authorizations are provided by the decedent
  2. Spouse
  3. Adult child (age 18+)
  4. Parent(s): Mother/Father
  5. Siblings: Brother/Sister
  6. Extended family

Can the ME office make recommendations regarding which funeral home to use?

No.  There are many reputable local funeral homes and crematories.  Good sources of information that can help you choose one include the yellow pages, internet searches, and of course recommendations from friends and family.  Also, searching for “comparison of funeral homes” may yield several helpful websites that provide useful information.

How do I make arrangements for my loved one to be returned to his or her out of state home?

You can contact a funeral home in your home state to make the arrangements.  They will handle the initial arrangements, which typically includes contacting a local (Florida) funeral home to pick-up the body and prepare it for transport.  You may also select the Florida funeral home yourself.  The two funeral homes will then coordinate the delivery of the body to the final out-of-state destination.

Can we still have an open casket service or viewing if an autopsy has been performed?

If the body was suitable for viewing prior to the autopsy, having the autopsy performed will generally not change that.  Of course, injuries and decomposition may render a body unsuitable for viewing regardless of whether an autopsy is performed.  Medical examiner staff regularly communicate with funeral directors regarding the state of a body and its suitability for viewing.

How do I request a copy of an autopsy report?

You can request an autopsy report copy using our online portal – click here.  You can also submit a request by mailing a letter to our Administrative office, by appearing at the office in person, or by calling the office at our primary number, 941-361-6909.  In your request, please include the full name of the decedent and either the date of birth or the date of death (if known).

How long after the autopsy does it take for the autopsy report to be complete?

It depends on the complexity of testing required.  A case without toxicology or other additional testing needed may be ready within a couple of weeks.  An apparent overdose case with novel or “designer” drugs requiring identification and quantitation may require three to four months, or occasionally even longer.

Does the medical examiner allow eyes or other organs and tissues to be recovered?

We do, under certain circumstances.  Sometimes the nature of the death or the needs of the investigation preclude certain donations.  When there are no such restrictions, we work cooperatively with our local eye and tissue banks and federally designated organ procurement agency and consider this an important community service. However, we ONLY allow these organizations to recover organs and tissues if proper consent has been obtained from either the family or, in certain circumstances, directly from the deceased individual (i.e. an organ donation consent document signed during life).  We NEVER derive any financial benefit, direct or indirect, from any organs or tissues that are recovered.

Does your office perform autopsies on non-medical examiner cases?

No.  Rarely, one of our medical examiners may perform a “private” autopsy when specially contacted by a private party to do so, however the pathologist has to do it on his or her own time and utilizing his or her own resources (e.g. facility, instruments, autopsy supplies, etc.).  Additionally, to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, medical examiners for District 12 are not allowed to do private autopsies on deaths that occur within our three counties and could thus potentially be medical examiner cases.  For local “private” autopsies, several pathologists are available within the area.

Can I view the body of my loved one at the medical examiner’s office?

Viewings are generally not performed at the ME office.  The facilities are not suited for such services and any viewing is best performed after preparation by and under the guidance of an experienced funeral director.