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Why does the Medical Examiner Office have to become involved in a Death?

  • Tennessee law, or the Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 38-7-108(a)(1), “Death under suspicious, unusual or unnatural circumstances,” states,
    “Any physician, undertaker, law enforcement officer, or other person having knowledge of the death of any person from sudden violence or by casualty or by suicide, or suddenly when in apparent health, or when found dead, or in prison, or in any suspicious, unusual, or unnatural manner, or where the body is to be cremated shall immediately notify the county medical examiner or the district attorney general, the local police, or the county sheriff, who in turn shall notify the county medical examiner.” Deaths in licensed health care facilities (e.g., hospitals or nursing homes) need not be reported unless there are suspicious, unusual or unexpected circumstances.

  • What if a death occurring in a licensed health care facility is suspicious, unusual or unexpected? TCA 38-7-108(a)(2) states,
    “In the event such death occurs in a suspicious, unusual, or unexpected manner in a hospital, outpatient facility, nursing home, treatment resource, clinic, or other health care facility, the facility shall immediately notify the county medical examiner of the occurrence of such death.
    NOTE: Part (a)(2) above states that the “facility” is required to report the suspicious death, however, if the “family” feels that the death warrants investigation, then they should contact the District Attorney’s Office or law enforcement for investigative action.

  • Is the Medical Examiner Office associated with law enforcement and do they have law enforcement powers?
    No. In Tennessee, the Medical Examiner System is organized under the Commission of Public Health. The reason the Medical Examiner Office is organized under Public Health is because suspicious, unusual, or unnatural deaths may be the first sign or symptom of a public health threat that could affect us all. A second reason that the Medical Examiner System is separate from law enforcement is to insure an independent medical investigation.

Last Published: Sep 29, 2017