California family settles lawsuit over fatal car accident images

Posted on in Car Accidents

When someone dies in a car accident, the person's family suffers unimaginable grief. This grief sometimes leads to a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident, particularly if it's believed he or she acted negligently or recklessly.

But sometimes there are other reasons to seek legal action. For example, the family of a teenage girl who died in a horrific crash filed a lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol for its treatment of photos taken after the accident. The family settled the suit this week for $2.37 million, cancelling out a trial that was scheduled for March.

The teenage girl was driving her father's Porsche on Halloween night of 2006, speeding along an Orange County highway at more than 100 mph when she lost control of the car and slammed into a toll booth. California Highway Patrol troopers took photos of the fatal crash scene for the purpose of documentation, but the extremely graphic images, some of which showed the girl's body, were then sent to other officers and the dispatchers, who posted them on the Internet. The pictures went viral and were discovered by the girl's family, serving as a gruesome and very public reminder of the way she died.

Although the family tried for years to get the pictures removed from the Internet, some websites refused to take them down despite being threatened with legal action. A state appeals court ruling found in 2010 that the teen's family had standing to sue for invasion of privacy on her behalf. The decision established a new precedent under California law.

Under the terms of the settlement, the state Highway Patrol has agreed to help the family get the images taken off websites that still show them. As for the dispatchers who leaked the photos, one was disciplined and the other has since left the patrol.

Car accidents that seriously injure or kill someone are traumatic enough; victims and families shouldn't have to relive the nightmare and have their privacy invaded as additional consequences.

Source: Reuters, "California family settles lawsuit over leaked crash images," Dan Whitcomb, Jan. 31, 2012

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