2017 Louisiana Laws
Revised Statutes
TITLE 13 - Courts and Judicial Procedure
RS 13:5713 - Duty to hold autopsies, investigations, etc.

Universal Citation: LA Rev Stat § 13:5713 (2017)

§5713. Duties; autopsies; investigations

            A. The coroner shall either view the body or make an investigation into the cause and manner of death in all cases involving the following:

            (1) Suspicious, unexpected, or unusual deaths.

            (2) Sudden or violent deaths.

            (3) Deaths due to unknown or obscure causes or in any unusual manner.

            (4) Bodies found dead.

            (5) Deaths due to suspected suicide or homicide.

            (6) Deaths in which poison is suspected.

            (7) Any death from natural causes occurring in a hospital under twenty-four hours of admission.

            (8) Deaths following an injury or accident either old or recent.

            (9) Deaths due to drowning, hanging, burns, electrocution, gunshot wounds, stabs or cutting, lightning, starvation, radiation, exposure, alcoholism, addiction, tetanus, strangulation, suffocation, or smothering.

            (10) Deaths due to trauma from whatever cause.

            (11) Deaths due to criminal means or by casualty.

            (12) Deaths in prison or while serving a sentence.

            (13) Deaths due to virulent contagious disease that might be caused by or cause a public hazard, including acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

            B.(1) The coroner may perform or cause to be performed by a competent physician an autopsy in any case in his discretion. The coroner shall perform or cause to be performed by a competent physician an autopsy in the case of any death where there is a reasonable probability that the violation of a criminal statute has contributed to the death.

            (2) The coroner or the district attorney may order the disinterment of any dead body within his jurisdiction under the direction or supervision of the person ordering the disinterment or his designee, and may authorize the removal of such dead body to a place designated by the person ordering the disinterment for the purpose of examination and autopsy and, when such is completed, order the reinterment of the body.

            (3) The coroner may hold any dead body for any length of time that he deems necessary. However, the coroner shall expedite any investigation at the scene of an accident involving a fatality so as not to unduly delay the removal of the dead body from the accident scene. However, if a bodily substance sample for a toxicology screen is extracted at the accident scene, the extraction procedure shall be performed outside of public view.

            (4)(a) He may remove and retain for testing or examination any specimens, organs, or other portion of the remains of the deceased that he may deem necessary or advisable as possible evidence before a grand jury or court, subject to the limitation set forth in R.S. 32:661(A)(2).

            (b) The coroner may also remove and retain any specimens or organs of the deceased which in his discretion are necessary or desirable for anatomical, bacteriological, chemical, or toxicological examination, subject to the limitation set forth in R.S. 32:661(A)(2).

            C.(1)(a) The coroner shall perform or cause to be performed by a competent physician an autopsy in all cases of infants under the age of one year who die unexpectedly without explanation.

            (b) The autopsy shall include microscopic and toxicology studies.

            (c) The coroner shall furnish a death certificate based upon his autopsy with his statement, to the best of his knowledge, of the cause and means of death.

            (2) If the coroner finds that the cause of death was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, he shall notify the director of the parish health unit within forty-eight hours after such determination.

            (3) In preparing the certificate of death, the coroner may not, in lieu of an autopsy, rely on statements of relatives, persons in attendance during the last sickness, persons present at the time of death, or other persons having adequate knowledge of the facts, even if such data may be permitted in other cases in this Section.

            (4) The coroner shall not perform an autopsy if the parents of the infant provide to the coroner their objection in writing, unless the coroner finds that the facts surrounding the death require that an autopsy be performed in the interest of the public safety, public health, or public welfare.

            D. If the family of the deceased objects to an autopsy on religious grounds, the autopsy shall not be performed unless the coroner finds that the facts surrounding the death require that an autopsy be performed in the interest of the public safety, public health, or public welfare. In such cases the coroner shall provide the family his written reasons for the necessity of the autopsy.

            E.(1) The coroner shall furnish a death certificate based on his examination, investigation, or autopsy, and he shall state as best he can the cause and means of death.

            (2) If it appears that death was due to accident, suicide, or homicide, he shall so state.

            (3) The cause of death, and the manner or mode in which the death occurred, as incorporated in the death certificate as provided in the Vital Statistics Laws, R.S. 40:32 et seq., filed with the division of vital records of the Louisiana Department of Health, shall be the legally accepted cause of death, unless the court of the parish in which the death occurred, after a hearing, directs otherwise.

            (4) In the case of a death without medical attendance, if there is no reason to suspect the death was due to violence, casualty, or undue means, the coroner may make the certificate of death from the statement of relatives, persons in attendance during the last sickness, persons present at the time of death, or other persons having adequate knowledge of the facts.

            F. The coroner or his designee shall examine all alleged victims of a sexually-oriented criminal offense. The coroner may select the hospital or healthcare provider named as the lead entity for sexual assault examinations in the regional plan required by R.S. 40:1300.41 as his designee to perform the forensic medical examination.

            G.(1) Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, when the coroner is required to furnish information for the issuance of a death certificate by the office of vital statistics, the coroner shall do so within ten working days after the receipt of all test and investigation results or information associated with the investigation into the cause and manner of death.

            (2) If the coroner is unable to furnish the information required pursuant to Paragraph (1) of this Subsection within ten days after taking charge of the case, upon request, the coroner shall issue a written statement attesting to the fact of death, which shall constitute proof of death for all purposes, including but not limited to any claim under any policy of insurance issued on the life of the deceased individual.

            H. In deaths investigated by the coroner where he is not able to establish the identity of the dead body by visual means, fingerprints, or other identifying data, the coroner shall have a qualified dentist or forensic anthropologist or forensic pathologist carry out a dental examination of the dead body. If the coroner, with the aid of the dental examination, is still not able to establish the identity of the dead body, the coroner shall prepare and forward the dental examination and other identifying records to state and local law enforcement agencies. When the dead body may be that of an individual under the age of eighteen years, the coroner shall send this information to the Missing and Exploited Children Information Clearinghouse within the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, office of state police.

            I. The coroner shall furnish a copy of his final report or autopsy report, or both, upon written request, to the last attending physician of the deceased or to the designated family physician of the deceased, provided that the family of the deceased has given written authorization to the coroner or to the requesting physician for the release of such report.

            J.(1) Autopsy reports prepared by the coroner or his designee are public records. The coroner shall provide one copy of the autopsy report, records, writings, and documents of any description in any way compiled, drafted or recorded in connection with an autopsy upon request by the spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandchild, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle. If there is no surviving spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandchild, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle, then the coroner shall provide one copy of the autopsy report upon request to the next of kin. The coroner shall provide copies of the autopsy report, records, writings, and documents of any description in any way compiled, drafted or recorded in connection with an autopsy at no charge to the appropriate law enforcement agencies as requested. The public records fee for any other copy of an autopsy report shall be the same as that charged by the registrar of vital records for the state for a death certificate. The records, writings, and documents of any descriptions in any way compiled, drafted, or recorded in connection with an autopsy shall be provided by the coroner upon payment of a reasonable copying charge pursuant to R.S. 40:1165.1. The autopsy report shall be provided to relatives as provided in this Section at no charge.

            (2) The provisions of this Subsection shall not apply to the medical records of the decedent.

            (3) Notwithstanding the provisions of this Subsection, records, writings, and documents of any description in any way compiled, drafted, or recorded in connection with an autopsy which are generated by any public entity other than the coroner shall be obtained from the public entity generating those records, writings, and documents in accordance with other applicable provisions of law.

            K.(1) For the purposes of this Section, an autopsy report is the work product of the coroner or his designee. When a coroner investigates a death, the office of the coroner is required to make available for public inspection and copying the autopsy report which shall contain the following:

            (a) Name, age, sex, race, and address of the deceased.

            (b) Date and reported time of death.

            (c) Physical location, including address if available, where the deceased was found.

            (d) Date, time, and place of autopsy, and the name of the doctor performing the autopsy and the names of all persons present at the autopsy.

            (e) Information regarding the autopsy, including whether the autopsy was requested or performed by operation of law, a listing of the physical findings of the autopsy, a summary in narrative form of the medical findings and conclusions, the cause of death, the manner and mechanism of death, and the classification of death as homicide, accidental, suicide, undetermined, or under investigation.

            (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph (1) of this Subsection, in a non-coroner case, no autopsy report shall be made available for public inspection or copying if the classification of death is that of natural causes except upon request by the next of kin or upon request in compliance with R.S. 13:3715.1.

            (3) Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph (1) of this Subsection and notwithstanding the provisions of R.S. 13:5714(C), no autopsy report pertaining to criminal litigation as defined in and in accordance with R.S. 44:3(A) shall be required to be made available for public inspection or copying except as otherwise provided by law.

            L.(1) Liability shall not be imposed on an elected coroner or his support staff based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform their policymaking or discretionary acts when such acts are within the course and scope of their lawful powers and duties.

            (2) The provisions of Paragraph (1) of this Subsection are not applicable to any of the following:

            (a) To acts or omissions which are not reasonably related to the legitimate governmental objective for which the policymaking or discretionary power exists; or

            (b) To acts or omissions which constitute criminal, fraudulent, malicious, intentional, willful, outrageous, reckless, or flagrant misconduct.

            (3) The legislature finds and states that the purpose of this Subsection is not to reestablish any immunity based on the status of sovereignty but rather to clarify the substantive content and parameters of application of such legislatively created codal articles and laws and also to assist in the implementation of Article II of the Constitution of Louisiana.

            M. Upon request, the Department of Children and Family Services shall be entitled to obtain at no charge the name, age, preliminary diagnosis, and manner of death of a deceased minor from the office of the coroner conducting the autopsy while the final autopsy is pending.

            Amended by Acts 1966, No. 312, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1967; Acts 1981, No. 211, §1; Acts 1984, No. 570, §1; Acts 1985, No. 240, §1; Acts 1985, No. 241, §1; Acts 1986, No. 311, §1; Acts 1986, No. 591, §1; Acts 1987, No. 878, §1; Acts 1988, No. 834, §1; Acts 1999, No. 761, §1, eff. July 2, 1999; Acts 1999, No. 1226, §1; Acts 1999, No. 1293, §1; Acts 1999, No. 1354, §2; Acts 2001, No. 1177, §1; Acts 2003, No. 794, §1; Acts 2011, No. 70, §1; Redesignated from R.S. 33:1563 pursuant to Acts 2011, No. 248, §3; Acts 2014, No. 390, §1; Acts 2014, No. 602, §3, eff. June 12, 2014; Acts 2015, No. 229, §1, eff. June 23, 2015; Acts 2016, No. 578, §1, eff. June 17, 2016; Acts 2017, No. 141, §1, eff. June 12, 2017.

NOTE: See Acts 2003, No. 794, §2, relative to applicability.

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