Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Medical Examiner's Office

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Medical Examiner's Office involved?

Pursuant to state statute 979, deaths meeting the requisite criteria must be reported to the Dane County Medical Examiner.  These include:

  • All deaths where there are unexplained, unusual or suspicious circumstances.
  • All homicides and suicides
  • All maternal deaths following an abortion
  • All deaths due to poisoning, whether homicidal, suidical or accidental
  • All deaths where an injury has possibly contributed to the cause of death, whether the injury is or is not the primary cause of death and regardless of the interval of the time between the injury and the date of death.
  • Where no physician or accredited practitioner is willing to act as the medical certifier of the death or refuses to sign the death certificate.
  • All deaths occurring while the person is in the custody of a law enforcement agency, state/federal department of corrections or any death involvong actions of a law enforcement officer.
  • All deaths occurring in the emergency room or outpatient area of a health care facility, or within 24 hours of admittance to a health care facility.
  • All deaths associated with a diagnostic, anesthetic or therapeutic procedure.
  • All deaths of public health interest, including infectious disease, communicable conditions and/or terrorism.
  • If a death is a miscarriage and 20 weeks or more have lapsed between the mother's last menstrual period and delivery, or stillbirth weighs 350 grams and the delivery is unattended by a physician or practitioner.
  • All deaths occurring in a place other than a hospital or nursing home, that are not registered with a Hospice Program licensed by the State Department of Health and Social Services, HSS 131. 
  • All deaths of a child under the age of 17 years, unless a physician certifies the manner and cause of death as natural.
  • All deaths attributable entirely or in part to work place factors
  • All cases where human or unidentified remains are discovered outside of a cemetery or documented burial plot.

He/She will be taken to the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office located at:

3111 Luds Lane

Mcfarland, WI  53558

No, unfortunately the Medical Examiner facility is not designed to accomodate viewings.  Arrangements for viewing may be made at the selected funeral home following autopsy and release.

If your family member or friend has an autopsy, for the most part he/she will be released shortly thereafter.  The majority of cases are released the next day if a funeral home is selected. The medicolegal investigator on scene will inform you of an autopsy timeframe.  When the death is the result of a homicide or suspicious circumstances, there is a possibility that there will be a delay in release.  We will do everything we can to keep you informed in these situations and will work to gain release as quickly as possible.

The Dane County Medical Examiner's Office supports the donation of organs and tissues.  With the consent of family, many types of organs and tissues may be donated to help others.  Individuals may have made a conscious decision to become a donor prior to death.  In these cases, the decision to donate has already been made for you as it was the wish of the decedent. 

Depending upon the circumstances of the death, a medicolegal investigator will ask you whether you want to proceed with donation.  You may also be contacted by the donor agency to discuss donation options and whether or not the deceased meets the criteria to participate in tissue donation. 

On some cases, the pathologist can determine the cause of death shortly after the examination.  In other cases, the pathologist needs to have more tests completed.  In these cases, a "pending" death certificate will be issued.  

Toxicology, histology, and microbiology testing can take months as these are tests performed outside of our facility.

Once the additional testing is completed, the pathologist can amend the death certificate with the final cause of death.

Thank you for your patience!

Basic demographic information and the manner of death are public record in Wisconsin.  The rest of the information is confidential and treated as such.  This information is available to legal next-of-kin and anyone with a direct and tangible interest to the case. In cases of homicide or of other serious nature, information may be released only to law enforcement or the District Attorney until the case has made it through the court system and there was an adjudication. 

If you are questioning whether you fit the criteria to receive a copy of the report, please call our office at (608) 284-6000.

Yes. The autopsy report is available to legal next of kin as well as those with a direct and tangible interest in the case. Please call our office at (608) 284-6000 to request a report. When the case has been completed and your request is deemed valid, a copy of the report will be sent to you.

Please call our office at (608) 284-6000. When the case has been completed and your request is deemed valid, a copy of the report will be sent to you.

We do not charge legal next of kin for the report.

Personal possessions in the custody of the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office will be released with the decedent to the funeral home.  Legal next of kin will be able to obtain the property when they meet with the funeral home to make arrangements. 

Sometimes personal possessions are taken into custody by other law enforcement agencies.  You will need to contact those agencies to recover personal possessions in their custody. 

Clothing is not normally considered property.  Unless there is a need to hold clothing as evidence, it is released to the funeral home assisting the family with final disposition.

The Medical Examiner's Office is open from 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday or by appointment.  Please call the office at (608) 284-6000 to make other arrangements. 

The death certificate is the official legal record of death.  It includes information about the deceased and about their cause of death.  Insurance companies, the United States Social Security Administration, and other agencies may request certified copies of the death certificate as proof of death.  Other examples of entities that may require a death certificate include:  financial institutions, utilities, employers, and pension plans.

Death certificates can be requested through the funeral home handling final disposition.  If this is not a function of the chosen funeral home, please contact the Register of Deeds at (608) 266-4141 or visit them at 210 Martin Luther King Blvd., Room 110, Madison, WI  53703. 

If a medicolegal investigator responded to the scene where a death occurred, they will make a pronouncement of death.  The legal date and time of death occurs when pronouncement happens. 

When the Medical Examiner’s Office is pronouncing, it is always ‘after the fact’ as we are not present at the actual time of death.  While we can often estimate a date of death based on our investigation, it is just that – an estimate.  It does not change the legal date and time that is on the death certificate.   

In situations where death was pronounced within a hospital facility, by hospice RN's, or where a physician is present, the actual date and time of death will be reflected on the death certificate. 

We would suggest that you call your local law enforcement office if you feel that your relative or friend is missing under suspicious circumstances.  Keep in mind that they may have been transported to a hospital as well, so that is another place to start your search.  The Medical Examiner's Office is only aware of deaths that are reported to our office.  Also, we are only advised of deaths that occur in Dane County.  Not all deaths are reportable to us so we may not have an answer for you.

The five manners of death are:

  • Homicide
  • Suicide
  • Accident
  • Natural
  • Undetermined

Any death where there is even a remote possibility that the underlying cause of death is anything but natural must be reported to our office. While there are only five categories of death, there are a multitude of mechanisms of death.  A primary physician can certify a death certificate for natural causes only.

Yes, Dane County currently oversees Rock, Brown, Door, and Oconto counties.  Along with these counties, Dane County also conducts autopsies for several other Wisconsin counties.

If you have questions concerning the status of an autopsy report or any other question regarding an autopsy from one of these outside counties, please call that county as we are unable to release information for other counties. 

The report request form along with a signed release from next-of-kin can be faxed to our office at (608) 284-6015.  Once that is completed, and the report has been closed and reviewed, a copy will be sent.