[author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor]
In the current climate of social media and Facebook, first responders and those who respond to accidents or crime scenes may be tempted to turn to their smartphone or other mobile device and snap a photograph. However, recent state laws have sought to prohibit the taking of such photographs based on the privacy rights of individuals and their families. Employers should be mindful of these state law developments and instruct employees accordingly.
On August 8, 2012, New Jersey enacted a law which makes it a crime for first responderswho are dispatched to or otherwise present at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation to take and disseminate photographs, videos, or other recordings of accident victims and patients to the public without the consent of the victim or patient or his or her family. The law extends to individuals who seek to post such pictures and images on the internet and using social media.
"Cathy's Law" was passed in response to an emotional outcry that arose when Cathy Bates, a 40 year old woman, died in a car accident in 2009. When a volunteer firefighter responded to the emergency situation, he took photos of the accident and posted it on Facebook before the victim's family was notified.
Under this law, a first responder is defined as a law enforcement officer, paid or volunteer firefighter, paid or volunteer member of a duly incorporated first aid, emergency, ambulance, or rescue squad association, or any other individual who, in the course of his employment, is dispatched to the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation in order to provide medical care or other assistance. The law makes an exception for disclosures made pursuant to a legitimate law enforcement, public safety, health care, or insurance purpose or pursuant to a court order.
A person who knowingly violates this law is guilty of a disorderly person's offense. The law also allows victims who are photographed to bring a civil action in the Superior Court and states that the court may award actual damages, punitive damages as well as reasonable attorneys' fees and costs and other preliminary and equitable relief if deemed appropriate. +2012 Bill Text NJ S.B. 199; +2012 Bill Tracking NJ S.B. 199.
Similarly, Connecticut enacted "Joshua's Law" in May 2011which prohibits police officers and emergency responders from photographing accident victims. Specifically, the law prohibits any peace officer, firefighter, ambulance driver, emergency medical responder, emergency medical technician or paramedic who responds to a request to provide medical or other assistance to a person and, other than in the performance of his or her duties, knowingly takes a photograph or digital image of that person without the person's consent or the consent of the person's family. The law further prohibits such images from being transmitted, disseminated or otherwise made available to third parties without prior consent. Individuals who violate this law will be subject to a fine of not more than $2000 or imprisoned for not more than one year or both.The law went into effect in October 2011. +Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-341c.
In light of these new laws, it would be wise for employers of first responders as well as employers in all industries to prohibit employees from using cameras or any personal electronic devices with photograph taking abilities to take or disclose any photos, images or recordings of any victims or patients without prior consent.