The Unique Subpoena Powers of a Local County Coroner

Q. A staff member from a medical practice called regarding a medical records subpoena that was recently served on the practice and issued by a local County Coroner. The staff member informed us that the subpoena was not signed by a judge, and it did not have an attached HIPAA authorization. The practice would like to know if this a valid subpoena, and if so, under what authority?

A. Yes, after reviewing the subpoena it was determined to be valid. Pursuant to County Law § 674 (4), a County Coroner, Coroner’s Physician, or medical examiner has the power to subpoena records and examine witnesses under oath without an authorization for the deceased and in the same manner as a magistrate in holding court of a special sessions. A Coroner’s role in New York State is to render an impartial determination of the cause of death and their role is separate and apart from law enforcement.

This is an extremely rare exception, and it is a good idea to contact legal counsel should a similar situation arise again in the future.