Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.16.030.

If centralized, in which department or agency is the system housed?
Not applicable.

Does the state system have a coroner, medical examiner, or coroners and medical examiners?
Coroners and medical examiners. “[E]xcept that in each county with a population of less than forty thousand no coroner shall be elected and the prosecuting attorney shall be ex officio coroner.’ Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.16.030.

In a county with a population of two hundred fifty thousand or more, the county legislative authority may, upon majority vote at an election called by the county legislative authority, adopt a system under which a medical examiner may be appointed to replace the office of the coroner. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.24.190.

“In practice” notes

Is there a state medical examiner?

If so, what is the state medical examiner’s role?
Not applicable.

In what department or agency is the state medical examiner’s office located?
Not applicable.

Are there deputies?
In all cases where the duties of any county office are greater than can be performed by the person elected to fill it, the officer may employ deputies and other necessary employees with the consent of the board of county commissioners. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.16.070.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
A deputy may perform any act which his or her principal is authorized to perform. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.16.070.

What are the qualifications for deputies?

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

Is the coroner or medical examiner position elected?
Coroner: elected
Medical examiner: appointed

Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.16.030; Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.24.190.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Four. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.16.020.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
To be appointed as a medical examiner pursuant to this section, a person must either be: (1) Certified as a forensic pathologist by the American board of pathology; or (2) a qualified physician eligible to take the American board of pathology exam in forensic pathology within one year of being appointed. A physician specializing in pathology who is appointed to the position of medical examiner and who is not certified as a forensic pathologist must pass the pathology exam within three years of the appointment. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 36.24.190.


What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
The jurisdiction of bodies of all deceased persons who come to their death suddenly when in apparent good health without medical attendance within the thirty-six hours preceding death; or where the circumstances of death indicate death was caused by unnatural or unlawful means; or where death occurs under suspicious circumstances; or where a coroner’s autopsy or postmortem or coroner’s inquest is to be held; or where death results from unknown or obscure causes, or where death occurs within one year following an accident; or where the death is caused by any violence whatsoever, or where death results from a known or suspected abortion; whether self-induced or otherwise; where death apparently results from drowning, hanging, burns, electrocution, gunshot wounds, stabs or cuts, lightning, starvation, radiation, exposure, alcoholism, narcotics or other addictions, tetanus, strangulations, suffocation or smothering; or where death is due to premature birth or still birth; or where death is due to a violent contagious disease or suspected contagious disease which may be a public health hazard; or where death results from alleged rape, carnal knowledge or sodomy, where death occurs in a jail or prison; where a body is found dead or is not claimed by relatives or friends, is hereby vested in the county coroner
. . . Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 68.50.010.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
The right to dissect a dead body shall be limited to . . . cases where a coroner is authorized to hold an inquest upon the body, and then only as he or she may authorize dissection . . . : PROVIDED, That the coroner, in his or her discretion, may make or cause to be made by a competent pathologist, toxicologist, or physician, an autopsy or postmortem in any case in which the coroner has jurisdiction of a body: PROVIDED, FURTHER, That the coroner may with the approval of the University of Washington and with the consent of a parent or guardian deliver any body of a deceased person under the age of three years over which he or she has jurisdiction to the University of Washington medical school for the purpose of having an autopsy made to determine the cause of death. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 68.50.100.

Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?

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