The Summit County Medical Examiner determines the cause and manner of death for the death certificates of cases which fall within the Medical Examiner’s jurisdiction.
The Medical Examiner serves the citizens of Summit County and regional counties by providing quality forensic death investigation services. Medical Examiner staff assists local law enforcement agencies with forensic evaluation of deaths to aid in their investigations and subsequent prosecutions.
With major advancements in forensic medicine and forensic pathology in the past decade, the Department of the Medical Examiner has become even more integral in the process of investigating crime. In fact, every investigation where fatalities are involved starts with the Medical Examiner. After initial evaluation by the Medical Examiner's Investigators, the office will determine what course of action to take and how to interact with law enforcement agencies in order to move the investigation forward.
Summit County is proud that Dr. Lisa Kohler is Ohio's first female Medical Examiner.
For employment or internship opportunities, please visit http://jobs.summitoh.net/.
For more information about the duties and responsibilities of Medical Examiner staff, please visit the links below.
Monday through Friday
7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
For the purposes of death reporting, we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays.
Requesting a Death Certificate
Death certificates can be requested through Summit County Public Health.
Indigent Assistance Information
If a deceased is indigent and family has no means to pay for funeral expenses, please contact the Medical Examiner’s Office to advise them of the situation. There is assistance available to those in need.
Every city, township or municipality, by law, has to have indigent funding that family can apply for. Each municipality has different rules and amounts that they will pay. In most cases, the deceased cannot own any property, such as a house or vehicle.
Most indigents that qualify will be eligible for a direct cremation. This does not allow for funeral viewing and/or services. In most instances, obituaries are not permissible.
Legal next of kin is required to fill out necessary paperwork for the funeral home, i.e. cremation authorization, death certificate information and release forms.
Physician Guidance for Death Certification
Completion of an accurate death certificate is the final act of caring for your patients. A physician who has established a relationship with a person, and worked with that person to improve his or her health, will have the best understanding of the natural processes that played a role in the patient's death. The cause of death statement on the death certificate is an expression of the physician's opinion as to the most likely sequence of events and contributing conditions that ultimately resulted in death. Because many natural deaths do not occur under the direct supervision of a physician, educated opinions must be rendered based on available information and the absence of evidence of other explanations.
Extensive guidance relating to the proper completion of the death certificate has been published by the Centers for Disease Control, the State Medical Board of Ohio, and the National Association of Medical Examiners. Links to these guiding documents are below. The board-certified forensic pathologists at the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office are also available to assist you with any questions you may have.
Answers to frequently asked questions:
1. Primary care doctors/treating physicians are expected to sign the death certificates when they have seen the patient in the previous 12 months. If greater than 12 months have elapsed since the most recent visit, the physician likely still knows the patient better than the Medical Examiner’s Office staff and may still opine as to the cause of death. Otherwise, the Medical Examiner's Office may request all medical records in order to complete the death certificate, as laid out in the Ohio Revised Code.
2. If a fall or other injury is believed to have contributed to the death, the manner of death would be ruled Accident, and the death certificate must be completed by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
3. The Cause of Death is the underlying disease or injury process that sets off the cascade of events ultimately resulting in death. Mechanisms such as arrhythmias and heart failure must be ascribed to the likely underlying cause, such as hypertension, arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, etc.
4. Qualifying words such as "probable" and “possible” are acceptable terms to use with sudden unexpected natural deaths. For example, a previously healthy 70 year old with mild hypertension found deceased in bed could be ruled as "Probable arrhythmia due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease".
5. If the exact sequence of events or mechanism is unknown, the phrase "Complications of…" may be used. For example, a patient with end-stage liver disease or metastatic cancer who was found deceased may be ruled as "Complications of end-stage liver disease" or "Complications of stage IV lung cancer", with any additional natural contributing diseases listed in Part II (Other Significant Conditions).
6. Physicians with only training licenses may not fill out the death certificate. Only a physician with an active medical license may complete the form.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Physicians’ Handbook on Medical Certification of Death”
National Association of Medical Examiners page on Death Certificate completion
State Medical Board of Ohio statement “Regarding the Signing of Death Certificates by the Attending Physician” (PDF available below)
Ohio Revised Code Section 3705.16
- Physicians Guidance for Death Certification (PDF, 75.5k)
All forms should be faxed to (330) 643-2100 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Decedent Release Form (PDF, 208.0k)
- Death Statistic Report (PDF, 235.5k)
- Request Autopsy, Investigation, Toxicology Reports (PDF, 237.3k)
Certified copies of death certificates can only be obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics of each respective health district. For information on how to obtain a copy of a death certificate in Summit County, visit http://scph.org/birth-death-records. In some cases, the funeral home or cremation service may obtain copies for the family, as part of their services.
When a person dies from an injury or poisoning that is inflicted by the deceased or another person, in detention, in any suspicious or unusual manner or when the person is not being treated by a physician for a disease known to cause death, Ohio law requires the Medical Examiner/Coroner to investigate the death. This investigation can include scene visits, interviews, post mortem examinations, review of medical records and police/EMS reports. The depth of each investigation is determined by the circumstances of each individual death.
The Medical Examiner will determine the depth of investigation and extent of an examination required in order to determine the cause and manner of death listed on the death certificate. Factors considered when determining the extent of the examination include the type of death, known medical history and circumstances regarding the death investigation.
Ohio law (ORC 2108.52) provides that the Medical Examiner/Coroner does not need permission to perform an autopsy. The Department of the Medical Examiner will attempt to comply with the wishes of the next-of-kin, especially if there is a family religious objection and when this does not conflict with the duties of the Medical Examiner as charged by Ohio law.
If a post mortem examination is required as part of the death investigation, or if the identity of the deceased or next of kin are unknown, the decedent is then brought to the Medical Examiner’s Department.
An autopsy is a systematic internal and external examination of a decedent by a qualified pathologist, for the purpose of determining the cause and manner of death. The procedure is performed while maintaining respect for the deceased individual. A record is made of the autopsy which may include additional microscopic and toxicological laboratory test results. These laboratory tests are conducted after the release of the body for burial or cremation. There is no charge to the next-of-kin for an autopsy nor for any of the tests which may be conducted by the Medical Examiner's Department.
The reports of the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office are public record. Report requests may be made by mail, email, telephone, in person or through our web site. Requested reports can be emailed to individuals at no charge. If you require a certified copy of a report, there may be a fee charged for the report and it will be mailed. If the death has been ruled a homicide, we may not be able to release the report until after the case is litigated in a court of law. If the requested report cannot be sent, you will receive a notification with an explanation.
Necessary incisions used to perform the autopsy are easily covered by clothing and do not prevent open casket viewing.
Routinely, the Medical Examiner's Department releases decedents to a licensed funeral director. The next-of-kin of the deceased person should contact a funeral home or cremation service of their choice. Next-of-kin will need to meet with their chosen agency and sign a release form which gives that agency authorization to pick up the decedent from the Medical Examiner’s facility. Most of the local funeral homes already have this release form for signing. If you are using an agency outside the Summit County area, this form can be found online and signed at the funeral home. That agency will arrange for transportation of the deceased to the funeral home or chosen facility and obtain the necessary documents for burial or cremation.
Funeral directors work with both funeral homes and cremation services. Most often, the next-of-kin will discuss the selection of a funeral director with other family members, clergy, or friends. The Department of the Medical Examiner is prohibited from recommending a funeral director. A listing of funeral homes or cremation services can easily be found online.
Usually the clothing of the deceased is released with the decedent to the funeral director for disposal. In cases of suspected homicide, various suicides, or accidental deaths, the clothing may be held by the Medical Examiner's Department or the investigating law enforcement agency for use as evidence.
Any personal property arriving on or with a decedent to the Department of the Medical Examiner is inventoried and secured until release of the decedent. At that time, the personal property will accompany the decedent to the funeral home or agency of family’s choosing where it will be released back to next-of-kin. Large quantities of cash are released directly from the Department of the Medical Examiner to Probate Court. Often, in homicide cases, all property on the Victim at the time of the incident is collected as evidence and released to the investigating law enforcement agency. This property would eventually be released by the law enforcement agency when it is no longer deemed needed as evidence.
A completed death certificate contains both a final cause and manner of death. The time required to complete a death certificate varies with each case. This procedure can take anywhere from a week to several months and in some cases even longer. Sometimes, it is possible to determine the cause and manner of death during an autopsy examination or review of medical records. In these cases, a completed death certificate can be generated by a funeral director once it is entered into Ohio’s EDRS (electronic death certificate system). A copy of the death certificate can be obtained once the funeral director files it with the Summit County Health Department. In other cases, when there is insufficient information available to complete the death certificate, a "Pending" death certificate is issued. This death certificate enables the funeral services and burial or cremation to take place while additional testing and investigation continues. At the culmination of these tests and investigation, a ruling is made based on all available information. A supplemental death certificate is then issued with the cause of death and ruling which supersedes the "Pending" death certificate. If the initial pending death certificate was obtained through a funeral home or cremation service, they should automatically obtain the supplemental death certificate for you as well.
It is recommend that if a family member or loved ones wish to view a decedent, it is done from the comfort of a funeral home or cremation facility. We will work with family and funeral directors to get a decedent released from our facility as quickly as possible. If positive identification of a decedent needs to be confirmed, this usually is done through scientific means such as fingerprint, radiology, dental or tattoo comparisons. In other cases, a Photo ID sheet is created and sent to the Funeral Director who will meet with family and have them sign the form confirming the decedent’s identification.