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Multi-Million Dollar Settlement Reached in California Invasion of Privacy Suit

A California torts lawyer and a devastated family’s dogged pursuit of an unprecedented legal claim ended in a $2.37 million settlement after more than five years. The LA Times reports that In 2006,18-year-old Nicole Catsouras took her father’s Porsche out for a high-speed joy ride. She lost control of the vehicle when she clipped another car and crashed into a tollbooth. The teenager was killed on impact. The crash was so severe, and the damage to Nicole’s body so gruesome, that authorities did not allow the grieving parents to view her body after the accident. Unfortunately, the death of their daughter was only the beginning of a long and horrific nightmare for the Catsouras family.

At the scene of the crash, officers from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) took photographs of Nicole’s mangled body, presumably for some kind of investigative purposes. The pictures show that the accident nearly took her head off and left her covered in blood. Those photographs were never supposed to have been seen by anyone outside the department. However, for reasons that are not clear, two officers subsequently leaked them on the internet. In the aftermath of the leak, the Catsouras family had to endure knowing that the pictures of their once-beautiful daughter were available for the world to see and comment on. They also received anonymous letters in the mail. The letters maligned their parenting abilities, criticized their daughter, and made cruel comments about the grisly pictures.

The Catsouras family spent a great deal of time, money, and effort trying to get the pictures taken down. Sometimes, they were successful in getting websites to remove the pictures, only to have them pop up on other sites a few days later. Finally, feeling that their efforts were futile, the family filed a suit against CHP. The California invasion of privacy lawsuit was originally dismissed by an Orange County Superior Court judge on the grounds that the CHP had not breached any legal duty owed to the family. Our San Diego injury lawyer knows that at that time, California tort law did not allow an invasion of privacy claim for survivors. However, Nicole’s parents refused to give up, and in 2010, an appeals court reversed the dismissal of the claim and officially recognized the right for surviving family members to sue for invasion of privacy in cases involving photographs of their deceased loved ones.

The case then dragged on for over a year before finally resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement this week. As part of the settlement agreement, the CHP also pledged their assistance in trying to get the images removed from the web. Experts have told the family that they will likely never be able to completely scrub the images from the internet, but Nicole’s parents have not given up on their efforts. Hopefully, because of their unrelenting pursuit of justice, the CHP will take the extra precautions to ensure that other photographs or sensitive information will not be leaked in the future, and other families will not have to suffer in the aftermath of tragedy.

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