Wisconsin

Coroner/Medical Examiner Laws

Medicolegal Death Investigation System

Is medical death investigation system centralized, county-based, or district-based?
County-based. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 59.20.

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. The offices of coroner and surveyor in counties having a population of 500,000 or more are abolished. Counties not having a population of 500,000 shall have the option of retaining the elective office of coroner or instituting a medical examiner system. Two or more counties may institute a joint medical examiner system. Wis. Const. art. VI, § 4.

“In practice” notes
None.

Is there a state medical examiner?
No.

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?
Within 10 days after entering upon the duties of the office, the coroner shall appoint some proper person, who is a resident of the county, chief deputy coroner, and may appoint as many other deputy coroners as the coroner considers proper. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 59.35.

The medical examiner may appoint such assistants as the board authorizes. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 59.34.

If so, what are the deputies’ roles?
Cannot determine.

What are the qualifications for deputies?
Chief deputy coroner: resident of county.
Other deputy coroners: cannot determine.

Wis. Stat. Ann. § 59.35.

Qualifications, Term of Office, and Training

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

Wis. Stat. Ann. § 59.20.

If so, how many years is the term of office?
Four. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 59.20.

What are the qualifications specified by law?
Unspecified.

Investigations/Autopsies

What types of deaths are required to be investigated?
(1) All physicians, authorities of hospitals, sanatoriums, public and private institutions, convalescent homes, authorities of any institution of a like nature, and other persons having knowledge of the death of any person who has died under any of the following circumstances, shall immediately report the death to the sheriff, police chief, or medical examiner or coroner of the county where the death took place:

(a) All deaths in which there are unexplained, unusual or suspicious circumstances.

(b) All homicides.

(c) All suicides.

(d) All deaths following an abortion.

(e) All deaths due to poisoning, whether homicidal, suicidal or accidental.

(f) All deaths following accidents, whether the injury is or is not the primary cause of death.

(g) When there was no physician, or accredited practitioner of a bona fide religious denomination relying upon prayer or spiritual means for healing in attendance within 30 days preceding death.

(h) When a physician refuses to sign the death certificate.

(i) When, after reasonable efforts, a physician cannot be obtained to sign the medical certification as required under s. 69.18(2)(b) or (c) within 6 days after the pronouncement of death or sooner under circumstances which the coroner or medical examiner determines to be an emergency.

Wis. Stat. Ann. § 979.01.

What types of deaths are required to be autopsied?
The coroner, medical examiner or district attorney may order the conducting of an autopsy upon the body of a dead person any place within the state in cases where an inquest might be had as provided in s. 979.04 [there is reason to believe from the circumstances surrounding the death that felony murder, first-degree or 2nd-degree intentional homicide, first-degree or 2nd-degree reckless homicide, homicide by negligent handling of dangerous weapon, explosives or fire, homicide by negligent operation of vehicle, homicide resulting from negligent control of a vicious animal or homicide by intoxicated user of a vehicle or firearm may have been committed, or that death may have been due to suicide or unexplained or suspicious circumstances] notwithstanding the fact that no such inquest is ordered or conducted. The autopsy shall be conducted by a licensed physician who has specialized training in pathology. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 979.02.

1) Inmate confined to an institution in this state. If an individual dies while he or she is in the legal custody of the department and confined to a correctional facility located in this state, the coroner or medical examiner of the county where the death occurred shall perform an autopsy on the deceased individual. If the coroner or medical examiner who performs the autopsy determines that the individual’s death may have been the result of any of the situations that would permit the district attorney to order an inquest under s. 979.04(1), the coroner or medical examiner shall follow the procedures under s. 979.04(2).

(2) Inmate confined in an institution in another state. If an individual dies while he or she is in the legal custody of the department and confined to a correctional facility in another state under a contract under s. 301.07, 301.21, or 302.25, the department shall have an autopsy performed by an appropriate authority in the other state or by the coroner or medical examiner of the county in which the circuit court is located that sentenced the individual to the custody of the department. If the coroner or medical examiner who performs the autopsy in this state determines that the individual’s death may have been the result of any of the situations that would permit the district attorney to order an inquest under s. 979.04(1), the coroner or medical examiner shall forward the results of the autopsy to the appropriate authority in the other state.

Wis. Stat. Ann. § 979.025.

If a child under the age of 2 years dies suddenly and unexpectedly under circumstances indicating that the death may have been caused by sudden infant death syndrome, the coroner or medical examiner shall notify the child’s parents or guardian that an autopsy will be performed, at no cost to the parents or guardian, unless the parents or guardian object to the autopsy. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 979.03.

Does the state require that pathologists perform the autopsies?
Yes. The autopsy shall be conducted by a licensed physician who has specialized training in pathology.

Wis. Stat. Ann. § 979.02.

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Page last reviewed: January 15, 2015