A County Coroner is responsible to respond to the scene of an incident in order to perform preliminary investigation on cause and manner of death. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department dispatches the Coroners. In certain instances, a case may be referred to the Erie County Medical Examiner (ME) for comprehensive medicolegal death investigation services including autopsy and post-mortem toxicology, if applicable. The Coroners also play a role in developing the county’s Mass casualty/Fatality Plan in preparation for any catastrophic incidents, which could be caused by natural, accidental, criminal or infectious means.
Although deaths need to be reported to the Coroner, not all people who have died require further examination. If a death appears to be natural or related to natural diseases, then the body will be released to a funeral home of the family's choosing.
Common situations where the Coroner takes custody of a person who has died include:
- A young person without documented medical history.
- A person with no legal next-of-kin or one that cannot be determined or identified during the initial investigation.
- Any person who has died due to unnatural circumstances including:
Autopsy Report and Death Certificate:
The Chautauqua County Coroner releases a final autopsy report once the investigation and testing is completed. Some final reports can take up to five months or more to complete. However, each case is unique and the time may vary.
Obtaining a Report
The final autopsy report is available to the spouse of the deceased, personal representative of the estate, and legal next of kin upon notarized request. All other parties wanting to obtain an autopsy report must present either a judicial subpoena or notarized permission from the next of kin.
Autopsy results and reports are NOT given out until the case file is complete. If the death was suspicious or the autopsy report contains sensitive material that could jeopardize a criminal investigation, there may be an additional delay before it is released.
Please review the following documents to further determine if you qualify and to request and autopsy report:
An electronic death certificate will be initiated by either the attending physician, coroner, or medical examiner depending on the circumstances of the death. Funeral directors will complete the vital statistics portion of the certificate, and the certificate will be electronically transferred the town/village/city clerks for finalization. Initial copies (immediately following the death) are provided to family by the funeral director chosen by the family. Fees may apply.
Copies of death certificates are not available at the Coroner Administration office, but can be obtained from:
-New York State Department of Health
-The Local Registrar of the municipality where the death occurred. Please contact the clerk of Town, Village, or City Clerk for this information. The municipal directory may be used to find contact information for the appropriate locality.
Understanding the Cause of Death
Families will be notified of the cause of death by the Coroner who is investigating the death. Families are encouraged to consult with their family physician to discuss the final autopsy report, if there are any other concerns relating to the cause which the physician may have knowledge.
Pending Further Investigation
When a case requires additional testing or information, the death certificate may state “Pending Investigation.” This means that more time is needed to determine what happened. When the determination has been made, an amended death certificate will be completed.
The local district provides for burial when a Temporary Assistance recipient or other indigent person dies leaving no funds or insurance sufficient to pay the cost and there are no relatives, friends or other persons liable or willing to take responsibility for the burial expense.
Family members or friends of the deceased must complete the Temporary Assistance application and submit the application to the Department of Health and Human Services Temporary Assistance Division. An interview must be conducted prior to funeral arrangements being made. When an application is accepted all resources of the deceased shall be investigated, including the ability of legally responsible relatives to pay the cost of the burial. Resources of the deceased must be applied to the cost of the burial prior to payment by the Department of Health and Human Services.