2003 Regular Session
To: Public Health and Welfare
By: Senator(s) Huggins
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTIONS 41-61-63 AND 41-61-65, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REQUIRE CORONERS TO PERFORM A DEATH SCENE INVESTIGATION FOR ALL UNEXPLAINED INFANT DEATHS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 41-61-63, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
41-61-63. (1) The State Medical Examiner shall:
(a) Provide assistance, consultation and training to county medical examiners, county medical examiner investigators and law enforcement officials.
(b) Keep complete records of all relevant information concerning deaths or crimes requiring investigation by the medical examiners.
(c) Promulgate rules and regulations regarding the manner and techniques to be employed while conducting autopsies; the nature, character and extent of investigations to be made into deaths affecting the public interest to allow a medical examiner to render a full and complete analysis and report; the format and matters to be contained in all reports rendered by the medical examiners; and all other things necessary to carry out the purposes of Sections 41-61-51 through 41-61-79. The State Medical Examiner shall make such amendments to these rules and regulations as may be necessary. All medical examiners, coroners and law enforcement officers shall be subject to such rules.
(d) Cooperate with the crime detection and medical examiner laboratories authorized by Section 45-1-17, the University Medical Center, the Attorney General, law enforcement agencies, the courts and the State of Mississippi.
(2) In addition, the medical examiners shall:
(a) Upon receipt of notification of a death affecting the public interest, make inquiries regarding the cause and manner of death, reduce the findings to writing and promptly make a full report to the State Medical Examiner on forms prescribed for that purpose. The medical examiner shall be authorized to inspect and copy the medical reports of the decedent whose death is under investigation. However, the records copied shall be maintained as confidential so as to protect the doctor/patient privilege. The medical examiners shall be authorized to request the issuance of subpoenas, through the proper court, for the attendance of persons and for the production of documents as may be required by their investigation.
(b) Complete the medical examiner's portion of the certificate of death within seventy-two (72) hours of assuming jurisdiction over a death, and forward the certificate to the funeral director or to the family. The medical examiner's portion of the certificate of death shall include the decedent's name, the date and time of death, the cause of death and the certifier's signature. If determination of the cause and/or manner of death are pending an autopsy or toxicological or other studies, these sections on the certificate may be marked "pending," with amendment and completion to follow the completion of the postmortem studies. The State Medical Examiner shall be authorized to amend a death certificate; however, the State Medical Examiner is not authorized to change or amend any death certificate after he has resigned or been removed from his office as the State Medical Examiner. Where an attending physician refuses to sign a certificate of death, or in case of any death, the State Medical Examiner or properly qualified designee may sign the death certificate.
(c) Cooperate with other agencies as provided for the State Medical Examiner in subsection (1)(d) of this section.
(d) In all investigations of deaths affecting the public interest where an autopsy will not be performed, obtain or attempt to obtain postmortem blood, urine and/or vitreous fluids. Medical examiners may also obtain rectal temperature measurements, known hair samples, radiographs, gunshot residue/wiping studies, fingerprints, palm prints and other noninvasive studies as the case warrants and/or as directed by the State Medical Examiner. Decisions may be made in consultation with investigating law enforcement officials and/or the State Medical Examiner. The cost of all studies not performed by the Mississippi Crime Laboratory shall be borne by the county. County medical examiner investigators shall be authorized to obtain these postmortem specimens themselves following successful completion of the death investigation training school.
(e) In all investigations of deaths occurring in the manner specified in subsection (2)(j) of Section 41-61-59, a death investigation shall be performed by the medical examiners in accordance with the child death investigation protocol established by the State Medical Examiner. The results of the death investigation shall be reported to the State Medical Examiner on forms prescribed for that purpose by the State Medical Examiner and to appropriate authorities, including police and child protective services, within three (3) days of the conclusion of the death investigation.
(3) The medical examiner shall not use his position or authority to favor any particular funeral home or funeral homes.
(4) The State Medical Examiner shall obtain such liability insurance as deemed appropriate to the needs of the office, and may be sued by anyone affected to the extent of such insurance carried; however, immunity from suit is only waived to the extent of such liability insurance carried, and a judgment creditor shall have recourse only to the proceeds or right to proceeds of such liability insurance. No attempt shall be made in the trial of any case to suggest the existence of any insurance which covers in whole or in part any judgment or award rendered in favor of a claimant, but if the verdict rendered by the jury exceeds the limit of applicable insurance, the court on motion shall reduce the amount of the judgment to a sum equal to the applicable limit stated in the insurance policy. This subsection (4) shall stand repealed from and after July 1, 1993, by operation of law.
SECTION 2. Section 41-61-65, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
41-61-65. (1) If, in the opinion of the medical examiner investigating the case, it is advisable and in the public interest that an autopsy or other study be made for the purpose of determining the primary and/or contributing cause of death, an autopsy or other study shall be made by the State Medical Examiner or by a competent pathologist designated by the State Medical Examiner. The State Medical Examiner or designated pathologist may retain any tissues as needed for further postmortem studies or documentation. A complete autopsy report of findings and interpretations, prepared on forms designated for this purpose, shall be submitted promptly to the State Medical Examiner. Copies of the report shall be furnished to the authorizing medical examiner, district attorney and court clerk. A copy of the report shall be furnished to one (1) adult member of the immediate family of the deceased or the legal representative or legal guardian of members of the immediate family of the deceased upon request. In determining the need for an autopsy, the medical examiner may consider the request from the district attorney or county prosecuting attorney, law enforcement or other public officials or private persons. However, if the death occurred in the manner specified in subsection (2)(j) of Section 41-61-59, an autopsy shall be performed by the State Medical Examiner or his designated pathologist, and the report of findings shall be forwarded promptly to the State Medical Examiner, investigating medical examiner, the Mississippi State Department of Health, the infant's attending physician and the local sudden infant death syndrome coordinator.
(2) Any medical examiner or duly licensed physician performing authorized investigations and/or autopsies as provided in Sections 41-61-51 through 41-61-79 who, in good faith, complies with the provisions of Sections 41-61-51 through 41-61-79 in the determination of the cause and/or manner of death for the purpose of certification of that death, shall not be liable for damages on account thereof, and shall be immune from any civil liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed.
(3) Family members or others who disagree with the medical examiner's determination shall be able to petition and present written argument to the State Medical Examiner for further review. If the petitioner still disagrees, he may petition the circuit court which may, in its discretion, hold a formal hearing. In all such proceedings, the State Medical Examiner and the county medical examiner or county medical examiner investigator who certified the information shall be made defendants. All costs of the petitioning and hearing shall be borne by the petitioner.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2003.