New Jersey Enacts Legislation to Protect Privacy Rights of Accident Victims

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Earlier this month, New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie signed into law a bill called “Cathy’s Law” that prohibits first responders from distributing photographs of accident victims to the public, such as posting photographs on social media.  The legislation came about after an incident in which a first responder posted photographs to Facebook of a woman killed in an automobile accident in 2009.

The new law makes it a disorderly persons offense for a first responder to photograph, record or otherwise reproduce the image of a person being provided medical care or other assistance, except when done in accordance with regulations or the operating procedures of the first responder’s employer.  The law also prohibits first responders from disseminating images of a victim at the scene of an accident without the prior written consent of the victim or the victim’s next of kin.  A first responder is defined as a law enforcement officer, paid or volunteer firefighter, or other paid or volunteer person trained to provide emergency medical services.  Violations of the law are punishable by imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of $1,000.00, or both.  Moreover, the law permits civil actions for damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

While the scope of the new law is limited to first responders and victims at accident or emergency scenes, the law presents a reminder to any employer in the healthcare industry that it should review its policies to ensure they adequately protect the privacy of patients and victims by precluding employees from posting images of patients on social media or otherwise disclosing such images to the public.