The State Senate has passed legislation sponsored by 9th District Legislators Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove that would prevent first responders from photographing persons whom they are assisting or disclosing photographs of such persons without their consent.
Senator Connors is the prime sponsor of the legislation (S-199) in the Senate, while Assemblyman Rumpf and Assemblywoman Gove have joined as cosponsors on the companion bill (A-789).
On October 23, 2009, Ms. Cathy Bates was killed in an automobile accident on Route 72 in Barnegat Township. At the accident scene, a volunteer first responder took photos of her which were posted on Facebook before family members were notified of what took place. Since the incident, Cathy’s mother, Mrs. Lucille Bates-Wickward, has led the effort to amend State law to prohibit first responders from distributing photos or recordings of an accident victim without the victim or family’s permission.
The Delegation issued the following statement following the legislation’s passage by the Senate:
“The misconduct and unforgiveable lack of sensitivity that occurred in connection with the tragic incident involving Mrs. Bates-Wickward and her family demonstrates a clear need for our state’s laws to be updated to reflect advances in technology, including social media, to help prevent such incidents from ever occurring again.
“All parties involved with advancing this legislation have the utmost respect for first responders, the overwhelming majority of whom would never violate the privacy of accident victims or act in such an unprofessional manner. It is therefore understood that the provisions of this legislation would only apply to egregious acts in which there is a clear disregard for the law on the part of the individual who would be illegally photographing and/or distributing material of accident victims.
“It is tremendously important to recognize the 5,000 persons who signed petitions, which our Delegation forwarded to the State House for entry into the official public record of testimony, whose collective effort demonstrated the widespread public support for this victims’ rights legislation. The efforts of these individuals who have actively engaged in the political process are paying off as both Houses of the Legislature are acting on this legislation with bipartisan support.”
Under the legislation, first responders present at the scene of a motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation to provide assistance, would be 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.
Additionally, first responders would be prohibited 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 or 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, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Lastly, a first responder who knowingly violates the prohibitions set forth under the legislation regarding photographing a person who is being provided medical care or other assistance or on disclosing a photograph of that person without the person’s consent is liable to the person whose image was taken or disclosed, who may bring a civil action in the Superior Court.