This information is presented to provide mortuary and crematory personnel with general and specific information concerning those cases that come under the jurisdiction of the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
Any questions concerning this information will be gladly answered by department personnel.
The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner is located at: 1104 North Mission Road, Los Angeles, CA 90033.
Our offices are located at the corner of Mission Road and Marengo Street, on the grounds of the Los Angeles County+University of Southern California (LAC+USC) Medical Center. The Investigations Division is on duty 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 365 days a year.
Cause of Death
DEFERRED CERTIFICATE - In cases where the cause of death cannot be determined at the time of autopsy, a deferred certificate will be issued until additional studies have been completed. Once the cause of death has been established, the Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office will enter an amendment to the Death Certificate into the California Electronic Death Registration System. (EDRS) Certified copies of the death certificate and amendment must be obtained from the Los Angeles County Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk once the State has completed the processing of the amendment.
CAUSE OF DEATH - UNDETERMINED CERTIFICATE - There are a small number of cases where an autopsy and complete laboratory and investigative studies have been performed and the cause of death still cannot be determined. In these cases, the Certificate of Death will reflect that fact.
CAUSE AND MANNER OF DEATH QUESTIONED BY FAMILY - There are times when the cause and manner of death as determined by this department is questioned by the family. A letter should be sent to the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner containing any new or different evidence and requesting a review of the cause and manner of death. The case will be reviewed and may be re-opened depending on the nature of the new evidence.
The decision as to whether a death is in fact a Coroner's case rests with the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office. If it is decided that the death is not a Coroner's case, it then becomes the responsibility of the attending physician to certify the death.
Nursing Home Deaths
All funeral directors are reminded that when a death occurs in an extended nursing home facility, board and care, group home or hospice and there is knowledge or suspicion of trauma, negligence, abuse, or poor care, the Coroner shall be notified immediately.
Port of Entry Letters
Port of Entry letters may be requested by Funeral Directors for authorization to ship a body out of the country. Port of Entry letters may be requested by telephone from the Medical Examiner-Coroner Public Services records section. They are usually available within a few hours after the request is received.
A signed release, signed pre-arrangement, or fax indicating mortuary preference, must be presented to this Department on all cases where Coroner's personnel have removed the remains to the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
When a decedent has made arrangements for the disposition of his/her own remains in writing, either in the form of a Will or pre-need document, this document is a valid release. A photocopy or FAX of that document will be accepted, provided it is signed, dated and specifies a mortuary.
Unidentified human remains with a signed death certificate are reportable to the Coroner for the purposes of establishing identification.
If a person’s death falls under certain criteria set by the Chief Medical Examiner, they may be released from a scene or medical facility directly to a local mortuary selected by the legal next of kin who has the right to control the disposition of the remains. A cause of death will be determined based on the decedent’s medical history and the circumstances of the death. A Medical Examiner-Coroner Investigator will coordinate with the mortuary to schedule an examination of the decedent at the mortuary. Prior to responding to any mortuary, the Investigator shall contact the mortuary and ascertain that the Order for Release (Form 5) has been completed. On the reverse of the Form #5, there is a decedent identification section that is required to be completed for Mortuary Sign-outs. There is also space for information obtained by the mortuary or their accommodation service that may provide additional information about the decedent’s prior medical history or the circumstances of the death. The Investigator shall review the following documentation and specimens to ensure that all required information is contained therein:
- Order For Release – Form #5
- Hospital Report to Coroner – Form #18 (if applicable).
- Medications - (if applicable).
The Investigator will ensure that all documents are collected and other required information is completed properly. Hospital paperwork recovered by a mortuary from hospitals where the decedent is released directly to the mortuary, belongs to the Medical Examiner-Coroner, not the mortuary, or the family. Those records were released with the understanding that they would be taken into possession by the Medical Examiner-Coroner. The decedent is required by be properly identified and tagged by the mortuary. After the remains have been properly identified, the investigator shall thoroughly examine the front, back and sides of the decedent. This will require the decedent to be nude and positioned on a mortuary table. Should the Investigator discover anything suspicious about the person’s death whether it is trauma or bruising to the body or circumstances surrounding the death that may indicate foul play, the death certificate shall not be signed and the body will be ordered into the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s facility for examination by a Deputy Medical Examiner.
Mortuary sign-outs can only be done at mortuaries located within Los Angeles County. Out of county mortuaries can schedule a Counter Sign-out and bring the decedent’s body and all required paperwork to the Forensic Science Center for examination by a Coroner Investigator.
Section 27491 of the Government Code, provides that the Coroner shall have discretion to determine the extent of inquiry to be made into any death occurring under natural circumstances and falling within the provisions of law. If such inquiry determines that the physician of record has sufficient knowledge to reasonably state the cause of a death occurring under natural circumstances, the Coroner may authorize that physician to sign the death certificate. In all other instances, the Coroner or his appointed deputy shall personally sign the certificate of death. On deaths from natural causes (with the exception of certain Nursing Home Deaths) where the attending physician has not seen the decedent within 20 days prior to death, but has attended the deceased within 6 months of death, permission may be given to that physician to certify the cause of death, if the following criteria are met:
- The attending physician, his or her associate has a professional opinion as to the cause of death and is willing to so certify, and;
- The circumstances surrounding the death are known and there is no evidence of trauma.
These cases will be issued a clearance number by the reporting desk staff. This clearance number will be provided to the Funeral Director and entered into the California Electronic Death Registration System. (EDRS).
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner releases bodies on Monday through Saturday excluding County (legal) holidays. See below for current release hours. Mortuaries are required to submit a signed Order for Release (Form 5) in order to collect the decedent. The Order to Release must be signed by the legal next of kin, or the mortuary must submit documents supporting why the legal next of kin is not handling the release. In the event someone is making the arrangements for the family, the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner must be provided with a notarized written authorization to release the decedent, signed by the legal next of kin.
The current release hours are 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM