Frequently Asked Questions
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|What are the business hours of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office?||
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s District office serves the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding County and Federal holidays, and is located at 200 Feliks Gwozdz Place, Fort Worth, Texas 76104-4919. Assistance is available 24 hours a day at 817-920-5700.
The District includes three other counties with their respective satellite offices:
Denton County – 535 South Loop 288, Suite 1132, Denton, TX 76205-4502
Johnson County – 103 South Walnut Street, Cleburne, Texas 76033
Parker County – 215 Trinity Street, Weatherford, Texas 76086
|I need information on a case that came from a county other than Tarrant, Denton, Johnson, or Parker. Who should I contact?||For cases done at the request of a Justice of the Peace or Medical Examiner office in another jurisdiction, contact that judge or office for any information or documents. The Tarrant Co. Medical Examiner's Office cannot give information or documents on those cases.|
|What should I do now?||You should select a funeral home and notify the funeral director that the death is being investigated by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office. You must also sign an Authorization To Release Remains Form at the funeral home authorizing the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office to release the decedent's body to the funeral home of your choice.|
|Where will my loved one be taken?||Your loved one will be taken to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office located at 200 Feliks Gwozdz Place in Fort Worth, Texas.|
|Can I view the body and do I have to identify my loved one?||
No. The Medical Examiner’s Office does not have facilities to view bodies. You should make viewing arrangements with the funeral home or crematory handling final disposition of the remains.
If identification of a decedent is required, a Medical Examiner’s Office representative will contact the next-of-kin to discuss appropriate identification methods and obtain pertinent information. If your loved one is missing, it is recommended to contact the police department to file a missing person report.
|What constitutes a “Medical Examiner” case and why is the Medical Examiner’s Office involved?||Article 49.25 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure clearly defines which cases fall under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner including sudden, unexpected, violent, unnatural, unattended and other deaths affecting the public interest. In such cases, it is the medical examiner’s statutory obligation to conduct an inquest, or investigation, into the reportable death. However, the Medical Examiner’s Office does not provide an autopsy service for hospitals or physicians and does not perform autopsies to support civil litigation matters.|
|What is an autopsy?||An autopsy is a dignified surgical procedure that provides a systematic examination of the body of a deceased person by a qualified physician. All Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s District physicians are certified in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology. During the assessment, a body is inspected for the presence of disease or injury. Minimal specimens of the vital organs and/or body fluids may be taken for toxicological and other analysis. The internal organs and the brain are examined and then replaced in the body for burial or cremation.|
|How long does an autopsy take?||A standard forensic autopsy can take up to three hours. Complicated cases involving extensive medical issues or traumatic deaths with multiple injuries may take longer in order to document fully all observations and findings.|
|Are tests for drugs and alcohol performed?||In all cases investigated by the medical examiner, including those where no autopsies are performed, body fluids may be taken for toxicological or other testing. The results of the tests are often important factors in determining an accurate cause and manner of the death. However, not all cases will receive toxicological testing, especially if such testing will not influence the cause or manner of death determination.|
|Does the Medical Examiner ever keep parts of a body?||In all cases where an autopsy is performed, the medical examiner will retain a small piece of tissue for histological study, and occasionally a whole organ may be retained for pathological examination. If the next-of-kin desires to have retained tissues returned to the funeral home after all testing is complete, it will be necessary to contact the Medical Examiner’s Office to make that request.|
|Does the law require that the medical examiner perform an autopsy for every death reported?||No. The law only requires that the medical examiner perform an “inquest,” or inquiry into a reportable death. After carefully reviewing the details of each case, the medical examiner will decide whether performance of an autopsy is warranted. In many cases, the cause and manner of death can be determined by an external examination or a medical review.|
|What if an objection to the performance of an autopsy is raised?||When family members object to an autopsy based upon religious, cultural or other beliefs, every effort will be made to honor that objection. However, if public interests cannot be fulfilled without performing a complete or limited autopsy, the family will be provided an opportunity to present their objection to a court of competent jurisdiction before the autopsy is performed, whenever possible. To submit a request that no autopsy be performed, fill out the Autopsy Waiver form and fax to 817-920-5713 or deliver in person to 200 Feliks Gwozdz Pl., Fort Worth, TX 76104.
|Can donation of organs or tissues still occur in medical examiner cases?||Yes. Once family members have expressed interest in allowing donation, the medical examiner will review the request with the organ and tissue recovery organization staff. Organs are harvested generally from a heart-beating donor only in a hospital setting. Tissue, including skin, bones and corneas, may be harvested at the hospital or Medical Examiner’s Office. In most cases, the medical examiner will impose no restrictions on organs and tissues harvested with the written consent of the decedent’s next-of-kin.|
|Does the family have to pay for any medical examiner services?||No. Examinations performed at the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office are required statutorily and provided in conjunction with transport to the Medical Examiner’s Office by the local county government at no cost to a decedent’s family. However, families may be billed by their selected funeral home for the transportation of the decedent from the Medical Examiner’s Office to the funeral home or crematorium after completion of the examination.|
|When will the body be released?||
Bodies brought to the Medical Examiner’s Office are generally ready for release to a funeral home or crematorium within 24 hours, although rarely, a body is held longer for legal purposes. Additionally, upon non-binding request, the remains may be released in the shortest possible time to honor religious, cultural or other family beliefs.
Once the examination is complete and the closest legal next-of-kin has designated a funeral home or cremation service, the body will be released to the mortuary or crematorium as specified upon receipt of a valid Authorization to Release Remains Form. Family members should notify the funeral director to call the Medical Examiner’s Office for release of the body, or may contact the office at 817-920-5700 to provide information regarding the funeral home selected.
|Who may sign the body release form?||
According to state law, only the nearest legal next-of-kin may sign the body release form. The next-of-kin in the order of legal priority are:
If the next-of-kin is out of town, he or she may fax a completed Authorization to Release Remains Form to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office at 817-920-5713.
|What if the next of kin cannot afford the costs of the funeral, or no one claims the body?
||The Tarrant County Commissioner's Court has contracted with the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center Willed Body Program to handle final disposition of decedents who have not been claimed within the legal time frame due to financial difficulties. For further information, please contact the UNTHSC Willed Body Program at 817-304-3763.|
|Is it necessary for family to identify the body?||No. In the majority of cases, this is not necessary. Should it become necessary, a Forensic Death Investigator will be in touch with you.|
|If my loved one is not identified, how long will it be before the body is released?||A body cannot be released until a positive identity is established. In most instances, visual identification by a next-of-kin is sufficient. In some cases, however, visual identification is not possible. Under such circumstances, the Medical Examiner's Office will attempt to identify the body by fingerprint comparison, dental identification or DNA comparison. Depending on the technique applied, it may take several days or more. You may contact Investigations Section at 817-920-5700 to check the status of identification.|
|What kinds of reports are produced?||
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office commonly produces three reports:
1. Death investigation report.
Depending upon the complexity of a case, there may be many other reports including bacterial/viral cultures, special chemistry, heavy metal and other poison panels, anthropology, human identification, criminalistics, etc.
Chapter §552 of the Texas Government Code addresses the topic of open government and public information in Texas, and sets forth the requirements that allow citizens access to information on action taken by governmental bodies. Section §552.021 allows public dissemination of information that is written, produced, collected, assembled or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business. Under the public records statute, all written records generated by the medical examiner in the performance of his duties are public records and may be released upon request to any citizen.
|How long does it take to complete a report?||
The Texas Health and Safety Code, Sec. §671.012 requires that a physician who performs an autopsy provided for by state law shall file an autopsy report not later than the 30th day after the date of autopsy unless a required test cannot be completed within that time. Depending upon the complexity of a case and the number of postmortem tests ordered, an examination report may take up to 12 weeks or longer before being completed.
|Who may obtain copies of the report?||Reports are provided to law enforcement agencies, the district attorney, special government agencies and the hospital providing treatment at the time of death. Pursuant to the Texas Open Records Act, the autopsy report is a public record and may be provided to any citizen upon request.|
|Will the next-of-kin automatically receive a copy of the examination report?||No. The legal next-of-kin desiring this information will need to request the report. See FAQ "How may I obtain a copy of the Examination Report?". One copy of the report will be sent without charge upon completion of the case.|
|How may I obtain a copy of the Examination Report?||
All Examination Reports (with the exception of X-Rays and photographs) are subject to required public disclosure in accordance with Chapter 552, Texas Government Code.
1. Mail to:
2. Send request via e-mail to TCME Records.
NOTE: Reports sent via email are unsigned copies.
To obtain a certified copy of the Examination Report contact the Records Custodian at: 817-920-5700, Ext. 8679 or 8336
|Can I get copies of the photos of my deceased relative?||
Yes. Photographs may be released upon presentation of a Notarized letter and pre-payment by the legal next-of-kin, and must contain all of the following elements to be considered valid:
1. The decedent’s full name and date of death;
Please mail in the original Notarized letter (copies will not be accepted), along with a check or money order (see current fee here) to complete your request.
Make checks payable to: Tarrant Co. Medical Examiner's Office.. Tax ID# is 756001170. The request and check can be mailed to:
Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office
Once the letter and payment have been received, the request will be processed upon its completion.
For further questions, please contact the Records Custodian at 817-920-5700, extension 8336.
|When will the death certificate be issued and how may I obtain one?||
Effective 2007, the Texas Health and Safety Code, Section §193.005, requires that medical certifiers of a death certificate submit the medical certification and attest to its validity using an electronic process approved by the State Registrar (Texas Electronic Registrar).
Also, Section §193.003 requires the medical examiner to complete the medical certification no later than five days after receiving the death certificate. In a large number of cases, the exact cause of death may be pending laboratory testing or investigation. In those cases, the medical examiner will file a “pending” death certificate, which is later amended upon completion of all necessary laboratory testing or investigation.
Certified copies of a death certificate may be obtained through the funeral home or crematorium that handled the decedent’s final arrangements, a local vital statistics registrar or directly from the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics.
|What is required for a cremation?||
The Texas Health and Human Code, Section §716.004, requires that a crematory establishment may not cremate human remains within 48 hours of the time of death indicated on a death certificate unless the waiting period is waived in writing by the medical examiner of the county in which the death occurred or by a court order. In compliance with the statute, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has established a written policy that outlines the process of making a request for a waiver during regular business hours and outside of regular business hours, including on weekends and holidays.
In all other cases, after the mandatory waiting period, the cremation can be performed. However, the crematory is required to obtain a cremation permit from the Medical Examiner’s Office. If the death was not a medical examiner’s case, the Medical Examiner’s Office requires the funeral director to provide a copy of the death certificate signed by a physician before a cremation permit issues.
|How do I make a complaint regarding a problem I am having with a doctor?||
The Texas Medical Board is responsible for investigating complaints regarding physicians and may be contacted by one of the following methods:
Texas Medical Board
If you have a complaint about our physician staff, please feel free to contact us at 817-920-5700.
|What are the current fees for laboratory services?||
Fees are payable by American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa.
|Will an autopsy be performed?||In many cases only an inspection is performed and an autopsy is not necessary. In wrongful deaths or where the cause of death cannot be established by inspection alone, an autopsy is performed. The decision to perform an autopsy will be made by a forensic pathologist at the Medical Examiner's Office.|