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Emergency Workers Could Be Prosecuted Under New Accident Victim Photo Law

Law will protect accident victims' privacy rights, sponsors say

When Cathy Bates was fatally injured in an automobile accident in 2009, her family was devastated. But it's what happened after the head-on crash on Route 72 in Barnegat that spurred a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Chris Christie.

Bates, a 40-year-old Manchester woman, was killed Oct. 23, 2009. At the accident scene, it was discovered that a volunteer first responder took photos of her which were posted on Facebook before her family members had even been notified of what had happened.

"Instantly, it was on the Internet," said Diane Brown, Cathy Bates' sister. "It was hours before my mom even found out it was my sister."

"You assume that someone's common sense and integrity would come into play," said Brown. "We thought, 'They posted pictures on the Internet?' That's not right. Can't they be arrested?"

But there were no laws on the books prohibiting the posting of such images at the time. While the practice may have violated the protocol of the first aid squad, there would be no criminal or civil repercussions available in such a case.

Since the accident which claimed her daughter's life, Lucille Bates-Wickward, a resident of Stafford Township's Warren Grove section, and her family members have lobbied state lawmakers to pass a law prohibiting first responders from distributing photos or recordings of an accident victim without the victim's or family's permission.

"We asked for help in getting something passed so another family wouldn't have to go through this," said Brown.

On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Connors and Assembly members Brian Rumpf and DiAnne Gove (all R-Ocean) which made distributing such photographs or recordings illegal.

"The enactment of this legislation marks a significant achievement in protecting victims’ privacy rights by updating state law to reflect the realities of today’s rapidly expanding and evolving social media," the legislative delegration said in a statement Wednesday.

"Not surprisingly, many first responders we have spoken with on this issue were incensed and offended by what took place in the case of Mrs. Bates-Wickward and her family."

First responders who are present at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation to provide assistance 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 applicable rules, regulations, or operating procedures of the agency employing the first responder," the law states.

The law also prohibits first responders from distributing any images of victims that are captured unless written permission is provided by the accident victim or the victim's next-of-kin. There are exceptions for certain law enforcement and insurance purposes, as well as in the case of a court order that forces the release of images.

Violating the law could earn a first responder six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, as well as the potential of being sued in civil court.

Brown on Wednesday afternoon expressed her thanks to the local legislators, as well as Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union) and the "hundreds of people who wrote the governor" asking him to sign the bill into law.

"People can make a difference and can change things," Brown said.

SF Clark August 10, 2012 at 08:32 AM
It's sad that you don't have the guts to be a hose holder/Firefighter.
John Q. Public August 10, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Sean, not to get into a pissing match, your comments are ignorant and unwarranted. While there are volunteers that have lost their ways (or were never on the right path to begin with), it's unfair to make such a general statement. Seventy-one percent of firefighters in the country are volunteer, and only six municipalities in Bergen County have paid firefighters. Those six municipalities send their firefighters to the same schooling as the other towns' volunteer firefighters.
LK August 10, 2012 at 12:51 PM
i know this might sound corny, but i feel this is one of those cases where a proverbial "village elder" could navigate through this better than a lawmaker. i wish we had them! there's a lot to parse through with this case....i think the element of posting on the internet took it to an unecessary level, even though it does not violate the 1st amendment.
Unknown August 13, 2012 at 09:24 PM
I take pics at accidents and fires etc. I am a volunteer firefighter. I never take pics of the people or person in there vehicle or emergency personnel getting the person or people out the vehicle. That part is so disrespectful. I take pics after the scene is cleared with the person or people already gone! Yes I do post pics on face book so other firefighters can see them and maybe help them if they come upon a scene in a similar way. Each firefighter or rescue or emts etc. has there own specific way of doing things but, we as firefighters are help with whatever situation you are in whether a fire or mva or whatever. We are all trained to do what we have to.Some pics that are on some of the sites have people in there vehicles yet and that is really disrespectful cause you see the mans head bleeding and a lady in a car where medics are helping her and another one with the plate showing and another one with a person showing still sitting in the vehicle.These are none of the pics I take cause they are not from my fire company. I edit all my pics before I post them.
VietNam Vet August 15, 2012 at 03:56 AM
If you do that, you'll have many first responders quitting the business, then who are you going to call? It sounds like the person made a mistake. I was involved in a head on collision two years ago, and the 18 year old boy who caused the accident that almost took a womans two small kids, he was so proud of what he did he went home a placed the pictures and everything on Facebook. To make matter worse the cop talk to the kids father and theyd decided not to give the boy a summons for running a red light. He gave the women a summons for having an expired license instead. Nothing happen to the boy except his daddy went an bought him another new BMW for graduating high school.

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