Inspired by some real-life case, what is the legal procedure by which a finding of suicide by Office of Chief Medical Examiner can be contested in New York City?

An article authored by some Centers for Disease Control personnel suggests that such a procedure might exist in general (without ref. to New York City particulars):

if the family opposes a suicide determination and the ME/C finds the evidence supporting suicide lacking in any way, the ME/C may declare the death undetermined to avoid a potential legal dispute

(ME/C - there stands for "medical examiners and coroners". The reason for the latter distinction is somewhat complicated, but not terribly relevant here since New York City has abolished coroners in 1918, according to Wikipedia, although other New York [State] counties might not have done that.)

So, how can one legally dispute that finding of suicide recorded on the death certificate in New York City, in particular?

  • 2
    Please spell out acronyms at least once each: OCME, CDC, ME/C. I know what the CDC is, but not everyone does, and I can guess that ME stands for medical examiner, but I'm not sure what OCME or ME/C mean.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 19:49
  • 1
    The question is still hard to read. The best way to handle acronyms is to explain them in the first use. "...what is the legal procedure by which a New York Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) finding..." Better written questions produce better answers.
    – user71659
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 20:15
  • Thanks for the edits, it is now much more readable and understandable.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 22:04

2 Answers 2


Here is the section of NYC law on the medical examiner. §17-207 provides for a "Root cause analysis", in case there is a "significant event". A significant event, as defined in that section, is where there is probably a technical screw-up in the office of chief medical examiner; the designated root cause analysis officer then develops guidelines for determining whether a significant event has occurred, then reporting, and other procedures. Then if it is determined that there was a screw-up, there shall be a report written, and this may get reported to the mayor or city council. Although there is no explicit statement therein about outsiders filing a complaint, you can always file an administrative complaint, and the law does say that there shall not be any disclosure of the identity of "any complainant, victim or decedent".

I assume the purpose of this complaint would be to force the medical examiner to change his report. If you simply just want to proffer an alternative claim, you can hire your own pathologists to make a different conclusion. One might care about the suicide / homicide distinction in case there was for instance an insurance policy that depended on the cause of death not being suicide. In which case, you would sue the insurance company, and the jury would look at the evidence for and against the suicide claim. As far as I can tell, there is no mechanism purporting to force the medical examiner to re-write his report and reach a different conclusion (the courts will not compel him to express a particular viewpoint).

  • If there is no means of compulsion, then the decision seems to be final and irreversible by anyone else?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 20:04
  • The Supreme Court is only supreme in matters of law: it cannot rule that X did or did not commit suicide. The OME does not render a legal decision or ruling.
    – user6726
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 20:06
  • @user6276, Thanks I realized that after I commented so I edited it out. Though I'm curious if there is anything blocking the Court from doing so or if it's just a customary taboo.
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 20:07

The coroner is just simply a government employee who gives his or her expert opinion.

If there is some sort of litigation that relies on the coroners report any opposing party is free to employ other expert testimony that may illustrate the coroners perceived ineptitude.

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