Bill To Protect Privacy Of Accident Victims Released By Assembly Panel

TRENTON – An Assembly committee on Monday advanced legislation that would prohibit first responders from photographing or disclosing photographs of accident victims and patients to the public without their consent.

“This is not an injunction on our first responders, who act bravely and save lives, but the callous few who violate the misfortune of the people they are charged with protecting,” said Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex), a sponsor of the bill. “In an era where photos and videos can live in perpetuity online, no family should ever have to worry about distressing images of their loved ones being displayed without their consent.”

The bill (A-789) prohibits a first responder who is dispatched to or is otherwise present at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation, for the purpose of providing medical care or other assistance, from photographing, filming, videotaping, recording, or otherwise reproducing in any manner, the image of a person being provided medical care or other assistance, except in accordance with applicable rules, regulations or operating procedures of the agency employing the first responder.

The bill defines “first responder” to mean 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 for the purpose of providing medical care or other assistance.

The bill also prohibits a first responder from disclosing any photograph, film, videotape, record or other reproduction of the image of a person being provided medical care or other assistance at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation without the prior written consent of the person, or the person’s next-of-kin if the person cannot provide consent, unless that disclosure was for a legitimate law enforcement, public safety, health care, or insurance purpose of pursuant to a court order. A person who knowingly violates this prohibition on disclosure is guilty of a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine of up to $1,000 or both.

The bill defines “disclose” to mean to sell, manufacture, give, provide, lend, trade, mail, deliver, transfer, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, advertise or offer.

In addition to any other right of action or recovery otherwise available under the laws of the state, a first responder who knowingly violates this prohibition, is liable to the person whose image was taken or disclosed, who may bring a civil action in the Superior Court.

The court may award (1) actual damages, but not less than liquidated damages computed at the rate of $1,000 for each violation of the bill; (2) punitive damages upon proof of willful or reckless disregard of the law; (3) reasonable attorney’s fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred; and (4) such other preliminary and equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.

“This is a matter of respect and dignity. This bill ensures that the privacy of accident victims and other persons receiving emergency medical services from first responders is protected,” said Coughlin. “Publicizing images of victims or patients who are in no position to grant or consent to their dissemination is downright rotten and gives upstanding first responders a bad name.”

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