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Coroner’s Statutes

These are Pennsylvania’s laws empowering, defining, and limiting the power of the Coroner.

Excerpted from Act 154 of 2018; a Codification of the County Code.

Article XII-B – Coroner (Subarticle A)

Click on a topic to jump to that section.

1201-B – Applicability
1202-B – Definitions
1211-B – Deputies
1212-B – Duties Regarding County Morgues
1213-B – Removal of Bodies to Morgue
1214-B – Removal of Body, Burial and Vehicle
1215-B – Unclaimed Property and Sales
1216-B – Unclaimed Property of Deceased
1217-B – Requests for Examinations and Reports
1218-B – Coroner’s Investigation
1219-B – Autopsy, Inquest and Records
1220-B – Child Deaths
1221-B – Sudden Death
1222-B – Prohibition on Moving a Body
1224-B – Cooperation with District Attorney
1225-B – Cooperation with Other Counties
1226-B – Certificate of Cause of Death
1227-B – Subpoena and Attachment
1228-B – Inquest and Jury
1229-B – Oaths
1230-B – Commitment to County Prison
1231-B – Inquests
1232-B – Vacancy
1233-B – Salary of Solicitor and Costs in Counties of the Second Class
1234-B – Anatomical Gifts
1235-B – Execution of Office
1236-B – Records
Subarticle C – Fees and Cost Recovery
1251-B C – Disposition Costs
1252-B – Fees for Reports



SECTION 1201-B – APPLICABILITY Back to Top
Except as otherwise expressly provided under this article, this article shall apply to counties of the second class, second class A and third through eighth class.


SECTION 1202-B – DEFINITIONS Back to Top
The following words and phrases when used in this article shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

“Autopsy.” The external and internal examination of the body of a deceased person, including, but not limited to:

(1) Gross visual inspection and dissection of the body and its internal organs.

(2) Photographic or narrative documentation of findings, including microscopic, radiological, toxicological, chemical, magnetic resonance imaging or other laboratory analysis performed upon tissues, organs, blood, other bodily fluids, gases or other specimens.

(3) The retention for diagnostic and documentary purposes of the following which are necessary to establish and defend against challenges to the cause and manner of death of the deceased person:

(i) Tissues, organs, blood, other bodily fluids or gases.

(ii) Any other specimen.

“Coroner.” An elected or appointed coroner or an elected or appointed medical examiner.

“Staff.” The term includes an individual in the coroner’s office who engages in activities relating to death investigation. The term may refer to a medical investigator, forensic technician, laboratory director, forensic supervisor, forensic investigator, scientist or autopsy or histology technician.



SECTION 1211-B – DEPUTIES Back to Top
The coroner may appoint a deputy to act in the coroner’s place and may appoint staff to positions established in accordance with section 1623 as the coroner determines. A deputy shall have the same powers as the coroner.


SECTION 1212-B – DUTIES REGARDING COUNTY MORGUES Back to Top
(a) Coroner. The coroner of a county in which a county morgue is established shall:

(1) Make general rules and regulations for the morgue’s operation and control.

(2) Appoint a suitable individual in charge of the morgue. An individual appointed under this paragraph may be removed at the pleasure of the coroner.

(b) Salary board. The salary board shall determine the number of individuals appointed under subsection (a)(2) and the individual’s salaries.




SECTION 1213-B – REMOVAL OF BODIES TO THE MORGUE Back to Top
(a) Unidentified or unclaimed body.–When the body of a deceased person is unidentified or unclaimed by a proper person found within the county, the body shall be removed to the county morgue or, in a county of the third through eighth class, to a facility serving in lieu of the county morgue. If necessary, the coroner shall have the body properly embalmed or prepared for preservation for the length of time the coroner determines is required to determine the deceased’s identity, the identity of a party responsible for the deceased and the cause and manner of death. The body may only be examined or inspected by an individual authorized by the coroner or who is admitted in the coroner’s presence.

(b) Removal from morgue.–A body may not be removed from a morgue except upon the authorization of the coroner.




SECTION 1214-B – REMOVAL OF BODY, BURIAL and VEHICLE Back to Top
(a) Removal and burial.–The county commissioners shall, in consultation with the coroner, provide for the removal of a body of a deceased individual to and from the morgue and for the burial of an unclaimed body.

(b) Vehicle.–The county commissioners may provide an ambulance or other vehicle for the purpose under subsection (a) and for other official duties of the coroner, including administrative, investigative or educational activities. The coroner may provide rules and regulations for the use and maintenance of the ambulance or other vehicle.



SECTION 1215-B – UNCLAIMED PROPERTY AND SALES Back to Top
(a) The coroner shall keep safely in the coroner’s charge:

(1) The personal effects and property that appear to have been on or about the person at the time of death or have been found on a decedent whose body is received at the county morgue or at any other facility serving in lieu of the county morgue.

(2) The effects and property that are delivered to the coroner according to law.

(b) Required holding period. The coroner shall hold the property for one year, unless the property is claimed by a legal representative of the deceased or is duly and lawfully disposed of or claimed.

(c) Property unclaimed after one year. After one year, the coroner shall direct the unclaimed or undisposed property to the commissioners to be sold at public sale. Money and property as security that may not be subject to a public sale shall be turned over to the commissioners for proper disposition or use.

(d) Notice. Notice of a public sale under Subsection (C) shall be published in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the county once a week for three successive weeks. The proceeds of each sale shall be paid immediately into the county treasury. The provisions of this subsection shall be in lieu of escheating to the Commonwealth.



SECTION 1216-B – PRIVATE MORGUE Back to Top
In a county of the third through eighth class in which a county morgue is not maintained, the coroner may have a body that the coroner is authorized to admit to a county morgue removed to a private facility. The county commissioners shall procure by contract, as provided under Article XVIII, the use of a private facility in consultation with the coroner.



SECTION 1217-B – REQUESTS FOR EXAMINATIONS and REPORTS Back to Top
(a) Requests. A request for an examination or other professional service by another county or person may be complied with at the discretion of the coroner under guidelines established by the county commissioners.

(b) Fees and charges. A fee and charge for an examination or professional service shall be established by the coroner, subject to approval by the county commissioners, and shall be accounted for and paid to the county treasurer as provided under section 1760. Payment for an examination or professional service shall be the responsibility of the county or person requesting the service.





1218-B CORONER’S INVESTIGATION Back to Top
(a) Duty. The coroner having a view of the body shall investigate the facts and circumstances concerning a death that appears to have happened within the county, notwithstanding where the cause of the death may have occurred, for the purpose of determining whether or not an autopsy or inquest should be conducted in the following cases:

(1) A sudden death not caused by a readily recognizable disease or, if the cause of death cannot be properly certified, by a physician on the basis of prior recent medical attendance.

(2) A death occurring under suspicious circumstances, including if alcohol, a drug or another toxic substance may have had a direct bearing on the outcome.

(3) A death occurring as a result of violence or trauma, whether apparently homicidal, suicidal or accidental, including, but not limited to, a death due to mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or radiational injury, drowning, cave-in or subsidence.

(4) A death in which trauma, chemical injury, drug overdose or reaction to a drug or medication or medical treatment was a primary or secondary, direct or indirect, contributory, aggravating or precipitating cause of death.

(5) A perioperative death in which the death is not readily explainable on the basis of prior disease.

(6) A death in which the body is unidentified or unclaimed.

(7) A death known or suspected to be due to contagious disease and constituting a public hazard.

(8) A death occurring in prison or a penal institution or while in the custody of the police.

(9) A death of an individual whose body is to be cremated, buried at sea or otherwise disposed of so as to be unavailable for examination thereafter.

(10) A sudden and unexplained infant death.

(11) A stillbirth.

(B) Purpose. The purpose of an investigation under subsection (a) shall be to determine:

(1) The cause and manner of the death.

(2) Whether or not there is sufficient reason for the coroner to believe that the death may have resulted from a criminal act or criminal neglect of a person other than the deceased.

(C) Requirements. As part of an investigation under subsection (a), the coroner shall determine the identity of the deceased and notify the next of kin of the deceased.



SECTION 1219-B – AUTOPSY; INQUEST; RECORDS Back to Top
(a) Autopsy. If, after investigation, the coroner is unable to determine the cause and manner of death, the coroner shall perform or order an autopsy on the body.

(b) Inquest. If the coroner is unable to determine the cause and manner of death following an autopsy, the coroner may conduct an inquest upon a view of the body as provided by law. At the inquest, the coroner’s duty shall be to:

(1) Ascertain the cause of death

(2) Determine whether an individual other than the deceased was criminally responsible by act or neglect and the identity of the individual who may be responsbile.

(3) Examine further evidence and witnesses regarding the cause of death.

(c) Recording. The proceedings at the inquest shall be recorded, at the expense of the county, in a manner to be provided by the county commissioners.

(d) Retention and Disposal

(1) The coroner may retain a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) specimen for diagnostic, evidentiary or confirmatory purposes.

(2) Retained tissue, organs, blood, other bodily fluid, gas or another specimen from an autopsy are medical waste and shall be disposed of in accordance with applicable Federal and State laws.

(e) Liability. A coroner who, in good faith, orders or performs a medical examination or autopsy under statutory authority shall be immune from civil liability for damages for ordering or performing the examination or autopsy.





SECTION 1220-B – CHILD DEATHS Back to Top
(a) General Rule. A coroner shall perform or order an autopsy to be conducted in the case of the sudden and unexplained death of a child who is not more than three years. If an autopsy is required, the autopsy shall be conducted in the manner the coroner determins is the least invasive manner appropriate.

(b) Investigation

(1) For a death of a child who is not more than three years of age where the coroner has determined that an investigation is appropriate, the investigation shall include the following information:


(i) Demographic information on the child and the child’s primary caregivers.

(ii) Witness interview.

(iii) Infant medical history.

(iv) Biological mother’s prenatal history.

(vi) Scene and body diagrams.

(2) In conducting the investigation under paragraph (1), the coroner shall consider nationally recognized standards for pediatric death review.

(c) Deoxyribonucleic acid.–A deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sample shall be collected for the purpose of aiding in the research of the causes of sudden and unexplained infant deaths and to provide genetic information as to the manner of death.





SECTION 1221-B – SUDDEN DEATH Back to Top
(a) General rule.
The coroner shall regard a death as sudden if:

(1) The death occurs without prior medical attendance by an individual who may lawfully execute a certificate of death in this Commonwealth.

(2) Within 24 hours of death the decedent:

(i) was discharged from medical attendance;

(ii) had a change of medical attendance occur; or

(iii) had medical attendance and the medical attendant refuses or is unable to certify the cause of death.

(b) Construction.–This section shall not be construed to affect the coroner’s discretion as to whether or not a death was suspicious or to authorize a coroner to investigate a sudden death further than necessary to determine the cause and manner of death.

(c) Definition.As used in this section, the phrase “medical attendance” shall include treatment or care at a facility providing medical services, including a hospital, nursing home and hospice service.





SECTION 1222-B – PROHIBITION ON MOVING A BODY Back to Top
(a) General rule.–Except as provided under subsection (b), if a coroner has jurisdiction to investigate the facts and circumstances of death, the body and the surroundings of the body shall be left untouched until either:

(1) The coroner has conducted an initial investigation of the scene of death, including viewing and photographing the scene in the manner that most fully discloses how the individual died.

(2) The coroner directs or authorizes the touching of the body and the surroundings of the body, except as provided by law or as circumstances may require.

(b) Exception.–A body on a public thoroughfare or other place may be moved if necessary for the administration of emergency care and as a precaution against a traffic accident or another serious consequence that might reasonably be anticipated if the body was left in place. The removal of the body shall be done so as to not substantially destroy or alter possible evidence.





SECTION 1223-B – RELEASE OF CORONER’S JUSRIDICATION Back to Top
If a coroner assumes jurisdiction of a body under the provisions of this article or another law, the body may not be released or removed from the coroner’s jurisdiction except upon the coroner’s directions and consent, in accordance with law.





SECTION 1224-B – COOPERATION WITH DISTRICT ATTORNEY Back to Top
In the exercise of duties under this article, the coroner shall consult with and advise the district attorney as may be practicable. The district attorney may act as counsel to the coroner in matters relating to inquests.





SECTION 1225-B – COOPERATION WITH OTHER COUNTIES Back to Top
If one or more coroners deem it necessary to establish a facility for conducting forensic testing and autopsies, a county may establish and operate the facility.





SECTION 1226-B – COOPERATION WITH OTHER COUNTIES Back to Top
A coroner shall issue a certificate of cause of death in each case:
(1) Referred to the coroner by the local registrar of vital statistics under the act of June 29, 1953 (P.L.304, No.66), known as the Vital Statistics Law of 1953.

(2) In which the coroner has jurisdiction and no individual duly authorized by law certifies the cause of death.





SECTION 1227-B – SUBPOENA AND ATTACHMENT Back to Top
The coroner may issue a subpoena and attachment, which shall be served and executed by the sheriff, coroner or coroner’s deputy, for the following purposes:

(1) A death investigation.

(2) To obtain the attendance of an individual who may be necessary to examine as a witness at an inquest.

(3) To compel attendance by attachment in a similar manner and extent as a court of common pleas may do in a case pending before the court.

(4) To compel the production of the following:

(i) A paper.

(ii) A document in any form or media, including a medical and mental health record.

(iii) Another thing relative to the investigation or inquest.





SECTION 1228-B – JURY Back to Top
(a) Jury.The coroner may summon a jury of six individuals and two alternates to be selected from the jury panels of the court of common pleas.

(b) Function.The function of the jury shall be to determine the manner of death and whether a criminal act or neglect of a known or unknown individual caused the death. The jury shall be paid as provided by law as if the jury members were serving the court of common pleas.





SECTION 1229-B – OATHS Back to Top
The coroner may administer an oath and affirmation to an individual brought or appearing before the coroner. An individual swearing or affirming falsely on the examination commits perjury.





SECTION 1230-B – COMMITMENT TO COUNTY PRISON Back to Top
(a) Warrant.–An individual may be committed by a coroner to the county jail by warrant directed to the sheriff or a constable of the county if the individual does either of the following while appearing before the coroner for examination:

(1) Refuses to take an oath or affirmation.

(2) Refuses to answer a question asked by the coroner on the matter of the inquest after having been sworn or affirmed.

(b) Case required.–The warrant under subsection (a) must set forth particularly the cause of the commitment.

(c) Length.–The individual shall remain committed until the individual submits to be sworn or affirmed, answers the questions of the coroner or is otherwise legally discharged.





SECTION 1231-B – INQUESTS Back to Top
The following shall apply:
(1) In counties of the second through eighth classes, the coroner may:

(i) Admit or exclude a member of the public from an inquest or a part of an inquest.

(ii) Admit or exclude an individual interested or suspected from the inquest or a part of an inquest.

(2) An excluded individual may not appear by attorney.

(3) An individual required to attend may have counsel at the attendance.

(4) In counties of the third through eighth class, representatives of the media may not be excluded from an inquest or part of an inquest unless the representatives are personally interested or suspected from the inquest or part of the inquest.





SECTION 1232-B – VACANCY Back to Top
(a) Legal removal, death or resignation. If a coroner is legally removed from office, dies or resigns before the expiration of the term for which the coroner was elected or appointed, the chief deputy coroner shall execute the office of coroner, perform related duties and receive and retain the compensation provided by law for the coroner until another coroner is appointed.

(b) Neglect or refusal. Except as otherwise provided under subsections (d) and (e), if an individual who is elected to the office of coroner neglects or refuses, for the two months after the election, to assume the duties of the office and to comply with the requirements of the law, the office shall be deemed vacant. The Governor shall notify the recorder of deeds and appoint and commission a suitable individual to fill the vacancy during the remainder of the term.

(c) Fees. A fee may not be charged on a commission issued to the coroner.

(d) Exception in certain counties. In counties of the second class A, the appointee of the Governor shall serve until the first Monday of January next succeeding the first municipal election which occurs at least two months after the vacancy, at which time a new coroner shall be elected. The appointee shall be confirmed by the Senate if the Senate is in session.

(e) Medical examiner. In counties of the second class, the appointee to the office of medical examiner shall serve and the term of office shall be as provided by county ordinance.



SECTION 1233-B – SALARY OF SOLICITOR AND COSTS IN COUNTIES OF THE SECOND CLASS Back to Top
In counties of the second class, the following shall apply:
(1) The salary of the solicitor to the medical examiner shall be determined by the salary board. The salary shall be paid out of the fees received and paid into the office of the coroner.

(2) Costs and expenses incurred by the coroner in a manner connected with litigation or claims arising out of or relating to the coroner’s office shall be paid by the county out of fees received by the coroner’s office.



SECTION 1234-B – ANATOMICAL GIFTS Back to Top
The coroner may order the removal of parts of a decedent’s body for donation purposes in accordance with 20 Pa.C.S. Ch. 86 (relating to anatomical gifts).





SECTION 1235-B – EXECUTION OF OFFICE Back to Top
An individual elected or appointed to the office of coroner may not execute any of the duties of office before a commission has been duly granted to the coroner by the Governor and properly recorded. An individual who violates this section may be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months. The individual shall be liable to a person injured by an act done by the individual under authority of the office.




SECTION 1236-B – RECORDS Back to Top
In counties of the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth classes, every coroner, within 30 days after the end of each year, shall deposit all official records and papers for the preceding year in the Office of the Prothonotary for the inspection of all persons interested therein.





SUBARTICLE – FEES AND COST RECOVERY


SECTION 1251-B- DISPOSITION COSTS Back to Top
(a) Cost of disposition. If legal representatives make claim to property after disposition of the deceased has occurred at county expense, any property retained from the deceased by the coroner in accordance with 1215-B shall be subject to sale to cover the cost of disposition with the balance, if any, going to the representatives. No property shall be sold under this subsection unless the coroner has provided written notice to the representative of the all of the following:

(1) The costs of disposition.

(2) A list of the property held in accordance with section 1215-B.

(3) An opportunity to pay the costs of disposition within 60 days of the notice.

(b) Costs of securing.–In cases where the coroner secures the premises of the deceased, the costs of securing may be charged against the estate of the deceased.

(c) Civil liability.–A coroner who reasonably attempts to secure or safeguard any real property where the deceased is found and any personal property on or around the deceased is immune from civil liability for damage to or loss of the property or its contents.




SECTION 1252-B – FEES FOR REPORTS Back to Top
The coroner shall charge and collect a fee of $500 for an autopsy report, $100 for a toxicology report, $100 for an inquisition or coroner’s report, $50 for a cremation or disposition authorization and other fees as may be established from time to time for other reports or documents requested by nongovernmental agencies in order to investigate a claim asserted under a policy of insurance or to determine liability for the death of the deceased. The fees collected under this section shall be accounted for and paid to the county treasurer in accordance with section 1760 and shall be used to defray the expenses involved in the county complying with the training of coroners or coroner office personnel, as may be required or authorized by this or any other act.


Further Reading: Act 154: Codification of the County Code (in its entirety.)