2020 Georgia Code
Title 31 - Health
Chapter 10 - Vital Records
§ 31-10-15. Death Certificate; Filing; Medical Certification; Forwarding Death Certificate to Decedent's County of Residence; Purging Voter Registration List
- A certificate of death for each death which occurs in this state shall be filed with the local registrar of the county in which the death occurred or the body was found within ten days after the death as follows:
- If the place of death is unknown but the dead body is found in this state, the certificate of death shall be completed and filed in accordance with this Code section. The place where the body is found shall be shown as the place of death. If the date of death is unknown, it shall be the date the body was found and the certificate marked as such; or
- When death occurs in a moving conveyance in the United States and the body is first removed from the conveyance in this state, the death shall be registered in this state and the place where it is first removed shall be considered the place of death. When a death occurs on a moving conveyance while in international waters or airspace or in a foreign country or its airspace and the body is first removed from the conveyance in this state, the death shall be registered in this state but the certificate shall show the actual place of death insofar as can be determined.
- The funeral director or person acting as such who first assumes custody of the dead body shall file the certificate of death within 72 hours. Such director or person shall obtain the personal data from the next of kin or the best qualified person or source available and shall obtain the medical certification from the person responsible therefor.
- The medical certification as to the cause and circumstances of death shall be completed, signed, and returned to the funeral director or person acting as such within 72 hours after death by the physician in charge of the patient's care for the illness or condition which resulted in death, except when inquiry is required by Article 2 of Chapter 16 of Title 45, the "Georgia Death Investigation Act." In the absence of said physician or with that physician's approval the certificate may be completed and signed by an associate physician, the chief medical officer of the institution in which death occurred, or the physician who performed an autopsy upon the decedent, provided that such individual has access to the medical history of the case, views the deceased at or after death, and death is due to natural causes. If, 30 days after a death, the physician in charge of the patient's care for the illness or condition which resulted in death has failed to complete, sign, and return the medical certification as to the cause and circumstances of death to the funeral director or person acting as such, the funeral director or person acting as such shall be authorized to report such physician to the Georgia Composite Medical Board for discipline pursuant to Code Section 43-34-8.
- In any area in this state which is in a state of emergency as declared by the Governor due to an influenza pandemic, in addition to any other person authorized by law to complete and sign a death certificate, any registered professional nurse employed by a long-term care facility, advanced practice nurse, physician assistant, registered nurse employed by a home health agency, or nursing supervisor employed by a hospital shall be authorized to complete and sign the death certificate, provided that such person has access to the medical history of the case, such person views the deceased at or after death, the death is due to natural causes, and an inquiry is not required under Article 2 of Chapter 16 of Title 45, the "Georgia Death Investigation Act." In such a state of emergency, the death certificate shall be filed by the funeral director in accordance with subsection (b) of this Code section; or, if the certificate is not completed and signed by an appropriate physician or coroner, the public health director of preparedness shall cause the death certificate to be completed, signed, and filed by some other authorized person within ten days after death.
- When death occurs without medical attendance as set forth in subsection (c) of this Code section or when inquiry is required by Article 2 of Chapter 16 of Title 45, the "Georgia Death Investigation Act," the proper person shall investigate the cause of death and shall complete and sign the medical certification portion of the death certificate within 30 days after being notified of the death.
- If the cause of death cannot be determined within 48 hours after death, the medical certification shall be completed as provided by regulation. The attending physician or coroner shall give the funeral director or person acting as such notice of the reason for the delay, and final disposition of the body shall not be made until authorized by the attending physician, coroner, or medical examiner.
- When death occurs on or after July 1, 1985, in a county other than the county of the residence of the deceased person, a copy of such person's death certificate shall be forwarded as soon as practicable by the department to the custodian of records of the county of the residence of such deceased person. The custodian of records shall file such death certificate as a part of the permanent records of such office.
- Any other provision of this chapter or Chapter 16 of Title 45 notwithstanding, when the death of a nonresident burn victim occurs in a treatment facility following the transportation of such victim from an incident occurring in another state, only the attending physician shall be required to complete and sign the death certificate.
- On or before the tenth day of each month, the state registrar shall furnish to the Secretary of State's office, in a format prescribed by the Secretary's office, a list of those persons for whom death certificates have been filed during the preceding month. Such list shall be used by the Secretary of State to notify local registration officers for the purpose of purging the voter registration list of each county.
(Ga. L. 1914, p. 157, § 7; Ga. L. 1927, p. 353, § 7; Code 1933, § 88-1214; Ga. L. 1945, p. 236, § 16; Ga. L. 1953, Jan.-Feb. Sess., p. 140, § 8; Code 1933, § 88-1715, enacted by Ga. L. 1964, p. 499, § 1; Ga. L. 1967, p. 617, § 1; Code 1981, §31-10-71; Ga. L. 1982, p. 723, § 1; Code 1981, §31-10-15, enacted by Ga. L. 1982, p. 723, § 2; Ga. L. 1983, p. 3, § 22; Ga. L. 1985, p. 1417, § 1; Ga. L. 1991, p. 94, § 31; Ga. L. 1991, p. 669, § 5; Ga. L. 1992, p. 2758, § 1; Ga. L. 1996, p. 1201, § 1; Ga. L. 2004, p. 477, § 6; Ga. L. 2009, p. 81, § 1/HB 64; Ga. L. 2010, p. 752, § 1/SB 493; Ga. L. 2010, p. 878, § 31/HB 1387; Ga. L. 2010, p. 914, § 36/HB 540.)Cross references.
- Criminal penalty for concealing death of person, § 16-10-31. "Georgia Death Investigation Act," § 45-16-20 et seq.Code Commission notes.
- Pursuant to Code Section 28-9-5, in 2009, in paragraph (c)(1), "Georgia Composite Medical Board" was substituted for "Composite State Board of Medical Examiners" and "43-34-38" was substituted for "43-34-37" in the last sentence, and in paragraph (c)(2), "physician assistant" was substituted for "physician's assistant" in the first sentence.
- In light of the similarity of the statutory provisions, decisions under former Code 1933, § 88-1212, and Ga. L. 1945, p. 236, § 18, subsequently codified as former Code 1933, § 88-1118, which were subsequently repealed but were succeeded by provisions of this Code section, are included in the annotations for this Code section.Evidentiary effect of death certificate.
- Certified copy of death certificate properly filed is no longer prima facie evidence of facts stated therein, and when facts stated therein are shown to result from statements made by others, such facts amount to hearsay. Under present law a certified copy of a duly filed death certificate is allowed in evidence only for purpose for which it was intended, that is, to show that person named therein is no longer in life. Interstate Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Wilmont, 123 Ga. App. 337, 180 S.E.2d 913 (1971), criticized in Allstate Ins. Co. v. Holcombe, 132 Ga. App. 111, 207 S.E.2d 537 (1974).
Death certificate is prima facie evidence of facts therein stated, but presumption raised is rebuttable. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Holcombe, 132 Ga. App. 111, 207 S.E.2d 537 (1974).
Death certificate serves as prima facie evidence only of death and immediate agency of death, and other conclusions, such as those regarding events leading up to death or whether cause of death was intentional or accidental, are not admissible. King v. State, 151 Ga. App. 762, 261 S.E.2d 485 (1979).Death certificate raises rebuttable presumption as to cause of death.
- Death certificate is prima facie evidence of cause of death, and though its introduction raises presumption as to cause of death it is a rebuttable presumption, and it is a question solely for decision by a fact finding body as to whether conflicting evidence is sufficient to rebut such presumption. Ingraham v. Atlantic Co., 97 Ga. App. 359, 103 S.E.2d 58 (1958) (decided under former Ga. L. 1945, p. 236, § 18, subsequently codified as former Code 1933, § 88-1118).
Statement in death certificate stating cause of death is rebuttable. McWaters v. Employers Liab. Assurance Corp., 73 Ga. App. 586, 37 S.E.2d 430 (1946) (decided under former Code 1933, § 88-1212).Death certificate establishing prima facie case for collection under double indemnity policy.
- Introduction of death certificate in which coroner assigned accidental suffocation as cause of death made out prima facie case on behalf of insured's beneficiary in action to recover under double indemnity policy. Family Fund Life Ins. Co. v. Wiley, 91 Ga. App. 225, 85 S.E.2d 448 (1954) (decided under former Code 1933, §§ 88-1212 and 88-1118).Certificate not made or filed as required not prima facie evidence of statements therein.
- Certificate not made or filed as required is not prima facie evidence of statements therein contained, though admitted in evidence without objection. Davison v. National Life & Accident Ins. Co., 106 Ga. App. 187, 126 S.E.2d 811 (1962) (decided under former Ga. L. 1945, p. 236, § 18, subsequently codified as former Code 1933, § 88-1118).Presumption of discharge of duties by one performing required autopsy.
- Medical examiner acting under the Post Mortem Examinations Act (see Georgia Death Investigations Act, O.C.G.A. Art. 2, Ch. 16, T. 45) is a public officer and all public officers are presumed to discharge properly the duties of their office. Thus, in the absence of any allegations or evidence to the contrary, having shown that an autopsy was requested, it must be presumed that a full and proper autopsy was performed, that the medical officer properly signed and filed the death certificate, and that it was done within a reasonable time as required by subsection (d) of this section. National Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Fender, 146 Ga. App. 545, 247 S.E.2d 195 (1978).
Failure to file death certificates within 72-hour period did not render certificates inadmissible as hearsay when certified copies of the certificates were issued in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 31-10-26(a), although such copies constituted prima-facie evidence which raised a rebuttable presumption of truth of the facts stated therein. Sherrer v. Lynn, 172 Ga. App. 745, 324 S.E.2d 500 (1984).
Cited in Smith v. State, 143 Ga. App. 347, 238 S.E.2d 698 (1977).
OPINIONS OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Funeral director's duty regarding medical certification of death.
- It is the duty of the funeral director who first assumes custody of a dead body to obtain medical certification of cause of death; that medical certification should be completed and signed within 48 hours after death by a physician or the osteopath in charge of the patient's care for an illness or condition which resulted in death except when inquiry is required by the Post Mortem Examination Act (see now Georgia Death Investigations Act, O.C.G.A. Art. 2, Ch. 16, T. 45). 1968 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 68-294.Death certificate should be signed within reasonable time when no medical attendance.
- If a post-mortem examination is not required under the circumstances and a person dies without medical attendance, medical certification of death should be signed within a reasonable time by a proper person (physician, osteopath, or medical examiner, as the case may be) who shall investigate the cause of death. 1968 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 68-294 (rendered prior to 1982 amendment).When post-mortem or autopsy unnecessary.
- Correlating Ga. L. 1953, Jan.-Feb. Sess., p. 602, §§ 5 and 8, former Code 1933, § 88-1715, no post-mortem or autopsy need be performed if the deceased was under the care of a physician and there was no evidence of violence or suicide; if the deceased was under the care of a physician it was not essential that the physician be present at instant of death to avoid the necessity of notifying the coroner. 1973 Op. Att'y Gen. No. U73-65.Release of information on death certificates.
- Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1320d, does not prevent the release of information on copies of death certificates about the cause of death of an individual, as well as conditions leading to the person's death and information regarding surgical proceedings conducted on the deceased, if any, that are released under the Georgia Open Records Act, O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70 et seq. 2007 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 2007-4.
Am. Jur. 2d.
- 18 Am. Jur. 2d, Coroners or Medical Examiners, § 16. 39 Am. Jur. 2d, Health, § 108.C.J.S.
- 39A C.J.S., Health and Environment, §§ 69, 70, 71.ALR.
- Death certificate as evidence, 96 A.L.R. 324.
Presumption against suicide as overcome by death certificate, coroner's verdict, or similar documentary evidence, 159 A.L.R. 181.
Official death certificate as evidence of cause of death in civil or criminal action, 21 A.L.R.3d 418.
Civil liability in conjunction with autopsy, 97 A.L.R.5th 419.