By a vote of 77-0, the General Assembly on Thursday granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assemblymen Craig Coughlin and Herb Conaway, Jr, M.D. that would prohibit first responders from photographing or disclosing pictures of accident victims and patients to the public without their consent. The measure now heads to the Governor’s desk.
“This is not an injunction on our first responders, who act bravely and save lives, but the callous few who violate the privacy of the people they are charged with protecting,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “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 (S-199/A-789) prohibits a first responder who is dispatched to or 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.
“Situations that require emergency medical attention are distressing enough without a victim or their family members having to worry about their privacy being invaded,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “This is a matter of respect and dignity, especially given the fact that victims or patients are usually in no position to grant authorization to these images.”
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.
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.