Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Crash victim's father sues CHP over dissemination of pictures of his daughter's body

May 16, 2010 |  7:08 am


Three weeks after his 18-year-old daughter sped away in his Porsche and swerved to her death in Lake Forest, Christos Catsouras understood why he had not been allowed to see her body.

Photographs of the Halloween 2006 crash, taken and leaked by the California Highway Patrol, were proliferating on the Internet. The crash had left his daughter unrecognizable.

Catsouras said he found 35 websites — and soon hundreds more — that showcased the macabre photographs, some with headlines that mocked his daughter. When he took them to the attention of CHP officials and pleaded for help, he said, they told him there was nothing they could do. "They said if we wanted to file a complaint, we could file a complaint."

The result: a lawsuit that, even though it has yet to go to trial, has reshaped the boundaries of privacy law in the Internet age.
In 2008, an Orange County Superior Court judge threw out the lawsuit against the CHP and two civilian dispatchers accused of disseminating the photos, on the grounds that the agency had not breached any legal duty to the family. The law, at the time, did not recognize the right of family members to sue for invasion of privacy involving photos of the dead.

That changed in January, when the state's 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana reversed the decision. For the first time in California, the court established that surviving family members have a right to sue for invasion of privacy in such cases.

"We rely upon the CHP to protect and serve the public," the court said. "It is antithetical to that expectation for the CHP to inflict harm upon us by making the ravaged remains of our loved ones the subjects of Internet sensationalism."

Read the full story here.

--Christopher Goffard in Santa Ana

Family photo