New Jersey Enacts Legislation to Protect Privacy Rights of Accident Victims

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.

As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.

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