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Types of Deaths to Be Reported to the Medical Examiner | Print |

Jurisdiction is vested in the Fulton County Medical Examiner over certain deaths if the events leading to death occur in Fulton County, or, if the place of onset of the fatal event(s) is not known and the body is found in Fulton County. Jurisdictional criteria is specified in the Georgia Death Investigation Act (Official Code of Georgia Title 45-16-20). The following explains the types of deaths described in that statute. All of them must be reported to the Medical Examiner's Office.

Anyone who becomes aware that a person has died under any of the following circumstances must report the death immediately to the Fulton County Medical Examiner. The Georgia Death Investigation Act provides failure to appropriately report a death is a misdemeanor. The investigation of death is a timely matter. Any delay in reporting can create increased investigative difficulties and hamper the investigation.

The criteria of reportable deaths are taken from the Georgia Death Investigation Act. We have attempted to clarify the legal terminology in a more understandable manner. Although we have tried to be as complete and specific as possible in compiling this list, we realize there will always be cases that may not fit the criteria exactly or which are subject to interpretation. Please call the Medical Examiner's Office if you are uncertain whether a case falls within our jurisdiction and whether or not you should report the death. Our phone number is (404) 613-4400.

The following types of deaths should be reported to our office:

1) Persons who die suddenly when in apparent good health or without medical attendance preceding death. This category should be reserved for the following situations:

  • Sudden death occurring in a person without a known natural cause;
  • Death occurs within 24 hours of admission to a hospital during an acute or unexplained rapidly fatal illness, for which a reasonable natural cause has not been established; or, a person is admitted to the hospital in coma and dies within 24 hours without having regained consciousness;
  • Deaths occurring in anyone who does not have a licensed physician;
  • Deaths of persons in nursing homes or other institutions where medical treatment is not provided by licensed medical personnel;
  • Deaths where no physician can certify that death is due solely to natural causes

2)   Circumstances indicate death caused entirely OR IN PART, by unnatural or unlawful means. This category includes all types of injury and/or poisoning and typically includes:

  • Drowning, suffocation, smothering, burns, electrocution, lightning, radiation, chemical or thermal injury, starvation, environmental exposure, neglect;
  • Unexpected death during, associated with, or as a result of, diagnostic or therapeutic medical or surgical procedures;
  • Deaths from narcotics or other addictions, other drugs, including alcohol or toxic agents, or toxic exposure;
  • Death thought to be associated with, or resulting from, occupational injury.
  • Death thought to be caused by unlawful termination of pregnancy (abortion);
  • Deaths occurring from apparent natural causes during the course of a criminal act; i.e., victim collapses during a robbery;
  • Death following all injury producing accidents, if recovery was considered incomplete or if the accident is thought to have contributed to the cause of death (regardless of the interval between accident and death).

3)  Suspicious circumstances. This category includes, but is not limited to, deaths under the following circumstances:

  • Deaths resulting from apparent homicide or suicide;
  • Hanging, gunshot wounds, stabs, cuts, strangulation, etc.;
  • Deaths occurring during the course of, or precipitated by, a criminal act;
  • Deaths that occur while in a jail, prison, in custody of law enforcement, or other state or county institutions such as mental institutions.

4) Unknown or obscure causes. This category includes:

  • Bodies that are found dead without and apparent natural cause. (See Criteria #1)
  • Deaths during or following an unexplained coma.

5) Deaths caused by any violence whatsoever, whether the primary cause or any contributory factor in death. This category includes but is not limited to:

  • Injury of any type including falls
  • Any deaths due to, or contributed to, by any type of physical trauma, chemical injury, or intoxication or poisoning.

6) Contagious disease. This category includes only those deaths wherein diagnosis is undetermined and a contagious disease which may be a public health hazard is possibly the cause of death.

7)   Bodies that are not claimed. This category may involve cases where no next-of-kin or other legally responsible representatives can be identified for disposition of the body.

8)  Premature or stillborn infants. The Medical Examiner has an interest if intrauterine fetal demise or birth with subsequent death may have been precipitated by maternal injury, criminal negligence, or abortion under unlawful circumstances.

9) Unidentified deceased. A death cannot be accurately certified if the identity of the deceased is not known. Our office will accept jurisdiction in such cases.

Overall, this list of cases reportable to the Fulton County Medical Examiner can be summarized as follows: A death should be reported if it was sudden, unexpecetd, and unexplained with reasonable medical certainty, or, death was thought to have been brought about or hastened by an injury or poisoning (regardless of the interval between the injury and death), or, death occurred while in custody of a law enforcement agency, or in a state or county institution.




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Fulton County Medical Examiner

430 Pryor Street SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
Phone: 404-613-4400
Fax: 404-613-2463
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