Death notification

Please forgive the morbid topic, but passing a bad accident on the road a few days ago left me with this question: in the event someone is killed in a car accident, who is responsible for notifying the family of the deceased? Is this left to staff at the hospital were the person is pronounced dead, or do the local police/state troopers handle it? If it’s the police, are officers given any sort of instruction as to how to handle the situation?

Is this left to staff at the hospital where the person is pronounced dead…

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I would think that in the case of a fatal automobile accident, there is always a police investigation, so it would be likely that someone from the police would have the unenviable task of passing along the bad news.

However, if you’re at the hospital, a doctor would probably get the job.

I don’t if you get training in this sort of job. I wouldn’t like to give the training or have to take it. I would think that the police department knows which of its personnel have the sensitivity for the job.

I know that when my mother died, (the police were sent to the family home to see why she wasn’t answering the door). A family friend was allowed to notify my sister and me, but my brother was out of town on a sales trip, and the police had to notify his girlfriend (who was the only person who had his itinerary), they called her at her job.

Don’t know if they’d been given training in the area.

Also, I had an unlisted phone number at the time, and the family friend had to contact the Long Distance Operator, who refused to give out the info, so she’d explained the situation to the operator who agreed to take the friends’ name and # and call me directly. So, a long distance operator found out about my mom before I did. When she called, she asked “do you know some one by the name of …?, she needs you to call about an emergency, here’s her number”.

I now have my phone number listed.

In our area, it’s the county coroner who breaks the news, if the death is one that he investigated (like a fatal traffic accident would be).

My husband and I witnessed a fatal traffic accident not too long ago (my husband, who is trained in first aid and cpr, was the first person to the man’s side and held him as he died - he had horrific head and chest injuries). The coroner arrived shortly after the first ambulance. Our county coroner is an extremely kind, older man who’s been doing his job for decades. He has one assistant and the two of them break the news to all families of victims of “unnatural” deaths in our county.

I had to accompany a cop to the house of friend’s father (rural area, no street numbers) after that friend had been killed in a car accident. It was a young cop, but he seemed to have the routine down. It went something like this:

“Are you Mr. Smith? . . . do you have a son named John? . . . Mr. Smith, you need to prepare yourself for what I have to tell you . . . your son was injured in a car accident tonight. Those injuries were fatal.”

By the time the cop says “you need to prepare yourself”, the family member already knows, and has time to process the information over several seconds, rather than all at once. It was a very humane way to break the news. Coincidentally, this is the same method I’ve noticed Sipowicz and other NYPD Blue cops use, so it must be fairly standard tactic (in my case, the cop was RCMP).

On a light note - in the Simpsons episode in which Bart, Rod, Todd, Milhouse, Nelson and Martin ‘invade’ Shelbyville to recapture their lemon tree, the parents are gathered on Simpsons front lawn. Flanders has the best line of the show:

“I spoke to the police chief in Shelbyville, and he said they haven’t seen them, but if they turn up in the morgue, he’ll fax us!”

When my SO died (of a heart attack, in a parking lot) I got a call from the Police Department. I think it was a dispatcher. I was not listed as next of kin (his mother was) but they knew he LIVED at the number they were calling.
I’ve always thought the local PD could have sent a human to tell me.
AND it was 3 hours later. After he had been moved to the Coroners Office, so I couldn’t even get info from the attending doctors.

Fillet, if you are really concerned, inquire at your county clerk’s office. In general, only the authority who does the actual pronouncement is allowed to notify the family. In practice, though, a hospital doctor or the medical examiner may be reluctant to deal with the family directly. So, they would tell the police, and the former will contact the family. In MVA caces, if the victim is beyond hope and is not moved from the scene, police will notify the medical examiner and the family (presumably only the police can establish the ID and would know who to contact). If the victim was send to the hospital, police will notify the family of the MVA, but not of the death (if they send the victim to a hospital, nobody died yet).

Thanks everyone, particularly those that shared knowledge from personal experience (my apologies for perhaps dredging up painful memories). I was just wondering how this difficult situation is dealt with; no special concerns on my part.