Frequently Asked Questions
We get asked lots of questions when we are on a call and receive many calls to our office. Here we have tried to provide answers to our most asked questions.
Why is the Coroner involved?
Kentucky law requires that the Coroner’s Office investigate any death of a sudden, violent, or suspicious nature. Any death that occurs outside of a hospital or hospice setting, or within 36 hours of admission to the hospital, requires notification of the Coroner’s Office.
The principal responsibility of the Coroner is to assure that a death did not occur as a result of foul play. To help determine the manner and cause of death, the investigator may use a variety of investigative techniques including interviews with family members and physicians, scene analysis and photography, and physical examination of the decedent. Oftentimes, these aspects of the investigation will provide the information needed to close the death investigation. It is possible that the family physician will be allowed to certify the death certificate.
Sometimes, family members feel as if they are under suspicion, or being asked overly personal questions. The investigation is meant to bring forth enough information to explain why your loved one died. What may seem like very personal or trivial information to you may be a wealth of knowledge for the Coroner’s Office. Please remember that it is our job to speak for the dead, and assure that justice prevails among society.
Why was the decedent's Medication collected by the Coroner's Office?
This is a routine and standard practice enforced by our policies and procedures. The medication provides a “quick reference” to the types of diseases the deceased suffered. Additionally, if further blood tests are performed, the laboratory may need the actual medications to help interpret the results. As federal law prohibits possession of medications by anyone other than the person to whom it was prescribed, the medications will not be returned. They will be destroyed at the conclusion of the investigation.
When Will The Personal Effects Be Returned?
Most often they will be transferred to the authorized next-of-kin immediately. Otherwise, you will receive them after the body is released from the Coroner’s Office to the funeral home of choice after the Coroner’s Investigation is closed. If the items become evidence in a criminal case, the State Attorney’s Office will decide when the items may be released to the next-of-kin.
Organ Donation & Transplant Services
The Coroner’s Office works closely with the area transplant services. The decedent’s next of kin may be contacted by a transplant service regarding possible donations.
Will there be an Autopsy?
That depends on a number of factors. Age, medical history, and the circumstances surrounding the death are the major considerations. The Coroner’s Office may defer an autopsy if enough facts concerning the events leading up to the death are known, verified, and supported by pre-existing medical conditions. Deaths involving the possibility of criminal activity, children, and those in good health prior to death will most likely be autopsied. Likewise, deaths in which the scene investigation suggests an external event (electrocution, drowning, etc.) will probably undergo autopsy.
Can I Refuse to allow an Autopsy?
We realize that this is a very personal and sensitive matter and some people object to an autopsy. Kentucky law REQUIRES the coroner to perform autopsy examination in certain cases such as child deaths. In other cases, autopsies are necessary for us to perform a competent investigation and Kentucky law recognizes that the Coroner must have the authority to order an autopsy despite family objections. If you object to an autopsy for personal or religious reasons, we will discuss the issue and attempt to resolve the matter in a way that will provide you with peace of mind but still allow a thorough inquiry. Regrettably though, there are cases that we feel mandate an autopsy regardless of your wishes.
Can I Request An Autopsy?
If you have concerns that you feel can only be addressed by autopsy, please tell us as soon as possible. The information may cause us to authorize the procedure. Sometimes, family members desire an autopsy to reveal the presence of any hereditary related diseases or for their own personal knowledge. If this is the case, but the death falls outside of the Coroner’s Office criteria for autopsy examination, we will assist you in securing the services of a pathologist for a private autopsy. In this case, you would be responsible for the costs of the procedure.
Can I view my loved one?
Viewing is to be observed at the Funeral Home you have selected. Viewings are not permitted at the Coroner's Office unless otherwise necessary for identification purposes. For private or preliminary viewings, please speak with the funeral director.
How do we find out what happened?
Coroner cases take several weeks to determine the cause of death. For typical cases there are many tests results, reports, and medical records that must be obtained before concluding the cause of death and closing the case. After the case is closed, you will receive the death certificate from the Funeral Home chosen, or can request one from Vital Statistics, you will also be able to request reports that will be able to answer any questions regarding the coroner case.
What Other Tests Might the Coroner's Office Perform?
We have other scientific tests that we utilize alone or in conjunction with autopsy examination to aid our investigation. If is fairly routine for blood and other body fluids, to be collected and sent for alcohol and drug screening. In fact, state law requires such test in motor vehicle deaths. Other tests may include blood cultures to determine infections or x-rays to detect the presence of fractures.
Why Is Establishing Positive Identification So Important?
In addition to being a tragic and emotional personal event, death is also a profound legal event brings about the possibilities of court action, the processing of insurance claims, and the settlement of estates. Positive identification of the decent, accomplished by the examination of circumstantial and scientific evidence, is a necessary prerequisite for the fulfillment of this legal event. In cases where the remains are disfigured, decomposed, or burned, advanced identification processes involving fingerprint recovery, DNA analysis, or dental comparison may be necessary to identify the deceased with scientific certainty. These tests may require days or weeks to process and delay final disposition of the decadent. Undoubtedly, this delay is emotionally troubling and difficult to bear, but is absolutely essential to the investigation and subsequent certification of death.
What Else Do I Need To Think About?
If you have not already done so, you will need to select a funeral home for arrangements after the preliminary investigation and/or autopsy are completed. Also, locating important documents such as insurance policies and veteran’s papers may be useful. You will undoubtedly have more questions than this brochure will answer. It’s very important to write your questions down for later reference. Coroner’s staff will try to answer those questions or refer you to the person or agency that can.