Driver's Ed Photos of Dead Youth Didn't Violate Family's Privacy

Jeff Gorman reports:

A woman can’t collect damages from a paramedic who displayed photos of her son’s dead body in a driver’s education class, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled.

Jeremy Wooten died in a car accident at the age of 21. Paramedic Don Horton kept the photos, which are typically taken at the scene of serious accidents, in an album.

Horton spoke at a driver’s education class three months later at the high school Jeremy had attended. One student recognized Jeremy and became upset. She took the photos of Jeremy out of the album and ran out of class.

The student gave the photos to Jeremy’s best friend. He passed them along to Jeremy’s family, who sued Horton and Robertson County for invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and mishandling of human remains.

The trial court dismissed the emotional distress charge, because the family members were not in the driver’s education class. The court ruled for the defendants on all other charges.

On appeal, Judge Holly Kirby ruled that the photograph display did not constitute a mishandling of human remains or an invasion of privacy.

“As the trial court observed, the photos were taken in a public place. We must respectfully conclude that, under these circumstances, a display of these photos cannot be deemed an ‘intrusion’ into the plaintiffs’ ‘seclusion’ or into their private affairs,” Kirby wrote.

You can read the court opinion here.

Frankly, I was surprised when I read the story, so I read the ruling to see how the judge reasoned. While reading the ruling helps, I still find myself offended by the outcome.

And even if it isn’t a violation of state law, isn’t this a HIPAA violation as the paramedic was in his professional capacity when he took the picture? Can some HIPAA expert explain this to me?

About the author: Dissent

2 comments to “Driver's Ed Photos of Dead Youth Didn't Violate Family's Privacy”

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.
  1. Anonymous - December 20, 2009

    This is pretty straightforward, this lawsuit clearly had no merit whatsoever.

    Generally when you are outdoors in a public area (such as in a street) you have absolutely no expectation of privacy whatsoever. You can be filmed or photographed without permission. HIPAA doesnt even come into play, a random bystander could have also legally photographed the scene.

  2. Anonymous - December 20, 2009

    If a medic renders services to an accident victim while in their capacity as part of a HIPAA-covered entity, then even if the accident was in a public space, the medic cannot discuss the services rendered as that would be a HIPAA violation, right? How is taking a photo and then displaying it not exposing information obtained while in the capacity of a HIPAA-covered entity? What the public can do is one thing, but HIPAA-covered entities are held to a different/higher standard, I thought.

Comments are closed.