Dec 182009
 December 18, 2009  Posted by  Court

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?

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