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The role of the Medical Examiner

The role of the Medical Examiner

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The mission of the King County Medical Examiner's Office (KCMEO) is to investigate sudden, unexpected and unnatural deaths in King County with the highest level of professionalism, compassion and efficiency, and to provide a resource for improving the health and safety of the community consistent with the general mission of Public Health.

We recognize the loss of a loved one can bring deep sorrow. Death investigations are performed in part to assist grieving family and friends. This guide is intended to provide you information about the investigation process, answer some Frequently Asked Questions, and provide a checklist of your unique responsibilities.

The purpose of the Medical Examiner's Office is to bring trained medical evaluation to the investigation of deaths that are of concern to the public health, safety, and welfare of the community.

The Medical Examiner's Office investigates sudden, violent, unexpected, and suspicious deaths that occur in King County.

Deaths that come under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner's Office include, but are not limited to, the following circumstances:

  • Persons who die suddenly when in apparent good health and without medical attendance within thirty-six hours preceding death.
  • Circumstances which indicate death was caused in part or entirely by unnatural or unlawful means.
  • Suspicious circumstances.
  • Unknown or obscure causes.
  • Deaths caused by any violence whatsoever, whether the primary cause or any contributory factor in the death.
  • Contagious disease.
  • Unclaimed bodies.

In addition to determining the cause and manner of death, the office works to provide accurate identification of decedents under their jurisdiction, and to notify the next of kin. Each decedent is treated with dignity and respect, and families are supported with compassion, courtesy, and honest information to help them with their grief and to make appropriate arrangements.

The Medical Examiner's Office's professional staff of over 30 includes medical examiners (who are medical doctors specializing in the science of forensic pathology), medical investigators, autopsy assistants and administrative support staff. The Medical Examiner's Office has been continually accredited with the National Association of Medical Examiners since 1978.

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Investigation at the scene of death includes taking photographs, collecting evidence, and obtaining information from family and other witnesses.

From the death scene, the KCMEO Investigators will transport your loved one's body to the Medical Examiner's Office, which is located at 908 Jefferson Street in Seattle (on Harborview Medical Center Campus).

Here, the investigation will continue and will include an examination of the decedent by a qualified KCMEO physician, usually performed the following morning.

The examination may or may not include an autopsy. If one is included, it will be performed by a KCMEO physician in order to most accurately determine the
cause and manner of your loved one's death.

While the examination is being performed, it is time for you to choose a funeral home or crematory to whom the body should be released after the examination is complete. In most cases, this can be accomplished within 24-48 hours.

You may contact KCMEO at any time during the process to inquire about the process or ask about investigation and examination findings.

Designate a primary contact person for your family

Provide your contact's information to the Medical Examiner's Office

Select a funeral home or crematory.

Inform the Medical Examiner's Office of your selection.

Obtain a copy of the Death Certificate from the funeral home or from King County Vital Statistics.

If you would like copies of ME reports, download and complete the KCME Records Request form.
Please note there could be a 4-6 month wait for some reports.

Yes. An autopsy will not alter the appearance of the body in any way that interferes with a standard viewing. However, because body holding facilities at KCMEO are designed to ensure security and public safety, it is not possible to view bodies at KCMEO. Rather, we request that viewing be done only at your designated funeral agent's facility.
In most cases, some initial findings may be available within 24 hours. Final results may take several months, sometimes 4-6. You may call KCMEO at any time to inquire about findings.
In most cases, yes. Clothing and property generally accompanies the body to the funeral agency.
No. All components of the investigation and examination are done as part of the public service mission of KCMEO.

Yes. KCMEO will release investigation and examination findings and reports only to:

  1. The decedent's next of kin
  2. A physician who was involved in the decedent's care; and
  3. An investigating public agency (e.g. law enforcement, Labor and Industries, etc.). Please be aware, however, that by state law the decedent's identity and cause and manner of death are public record.