Legal Hotline: Right to Know Law

Legal Hotline: Right to Know Law

PNA Legal Hotline

A car accident tragically resulted in a fatality, but the coroner has refused to provide the name of the deceased, citing an ongoing investigation.  Does the Right to Know Law require public access to this information?

Yes. The RTKL expressly provides public access to name, cause and manner of death records in possession of the coroner or medical examiner.

Section 708(b)(20) exempts a number of coroner-related records from public access, but this provision  expressly does not extend to  name, cause and manner of death information.  Further, in interpreting this provision of the law, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the Right to Know Law and the Coroner’s Act make name, cause and manner of death records immediately available under the law. See  Hearst Television, Inc. v. Norris, et al., 54 A.3d 23 (Pa. 2012).

Requests for name, cause and manner of death should be directed to the county coroner or medical examiner, and many coroners provide this information informally without the need for a formal, written RTKL request.  If a written request is required, the coroner or medical examiner must respond as promptly as possible, and within 5 business days, from the date the request was received.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please contact your news organization’s private counsel or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.