N.J. Law to Restrict First Responders From Sharing Accident Photos

By | August 17, 2012

A new law in New Jersey now prohibits the state’s first responders from taking and sharing pictures or videos of accident victims without their consent. And photographing and disseminating any such images will follow strict rules and operating procedures.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill, S199, last week. Under the law, “first responder” means a law enforcement officer, paid or volunteer firefighter, or other paid or volunteer person who has been trained to provide emergency medical first response services in a program recognized by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services.

The law was created in response to an incident in 2009, when a volunteer first responder took a picture of a driver who was killed in an auto accident. The volunteer then posted the photo from the accident scene on Facebook before the victim’s family was made aware. The new law is also called “Cathy’s Law,” after Cathy Bates, who was killed in that 2009 car accident.

The purpose of this legislation is to ensure the privacy of accident victims and other persons receiving emergency medical services from first responders, lawmakers said.

Under the law, first responders at the scene of an auto accident or other emergency situation are prohibited 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 regulations or operating procedures of the agency employing the first responder.

Additionally, first responders are banned from disclosing any images of a person being assisted at the scene of an accident 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 or pursuant to a court order.

A person who knowingly violates this prohibition is guilty of a disorderly persons’ offense, punishable by imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. A first responder who knowingly violates the prohibitions will also be liable to the person whose image was taken or disclosed, who may bring a civil action in the Superior Court.

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