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Ladera Ranch Family Settles Orange County, California Personal Injury Lawsuit with CHP Over Daughter's Car Accident Photos that Went Viral Online

December 31, 1969

Christos and Lesli Catsouras have settled their Orange County personal injury case with the California Highway Patrol. The Catsouras had sought damages for emotional pain and suffering after car accident photos of their daughter Nicole Catsouras were leaked online. The images, which included shots of Nikki's disfigured remains, became accessible on hundreds of Web sites.

The 18-year-old was nearly decapitated after crashing her dad's Porsche 911 Carrera into a concrete tollbooth on State Route 241 close to Lake Forest on October 31, 2006 while driving at 100 mph. She died instantly.

Not long after her death, her family, who weren't allowed to see Nikki after her death because her body was so badly damaged, began receiving anonymous text messages and e-mails containing pictures from the Orange County, California car accident site, including photos of Nikki's body. The images also started to show up online, including on a bogus MySpace page that at first appeared to be a tribute page but in fact was not. The family says that there was even a time when the photographs could be found on 1,600 Web sites in 50 nations.

The photos had been taken by CHP officers and then e-mailed outside the department. The release of the accident pictures to the public was reportedly not intentional. The family, however, have said that their grief was compounded by the ongoing nightmare of knowing they could pull up the grisly photos of Nikki on the Internet at anytime. They decided to sue the CHP for damages, seeking $20 million. Although many of the pictures have been removed from the Internet, there are some that are still available.

The CHP has taken responsibility for the photo leaks and said that two dispatchers, who didn't realize their conduct was wrong, sent the images to family and friends that Halloween. One dispatcher, Thomas O'Donnell, has been released from the lawsuit. The other dispatcher, Aaron Reich, has filed for bankruptcy. Although O'Donnell was reprimanded, he still has his job. Reich resigned for what he said were unrelated reasons.

A judge had dismissed the family's Orange County, California personal injury complaint in 2008. Later however, an appellate justice panel found it to have merit after a state law was rewritten granting surviving family members' privacy rights as they relate to images of the decedent in certain situations.

"Losing a loved one is hard enough without having anyone compound your pain and suffering further, said Howard Law PC founder and Anaheim Personal Injury Attorney Vincent Howard. "Even if that party didn't directly cause the death, he/she/the entity could be held liable for other acts of negligence."

It can take years, even a lifetime, to heal from the unexpected and tragic loss of a loved one. In addition to the sadness, anger, or loneliness you may feel, there also may be regrets, questions left unanswered, and the void left behind that can never be filled. If you were the one who was injured, there is your pain and suffering to take into account.

"We know that injuries can also be emotional or mental and they can prove just as damaging (if not more so) than physical injuries in their own way," said Orange County, California Personal Injury Attorney Vincent Howard.

Catsouras family settles lawsuit over grisly crash images, OC Register, January 30, 2012

Nikki Catsouras Crime Scene Photos Haunt Deceased Teen's Family, Discovery, May 5, 2009

Family's Nightmare: Daughter's Accident Photos Go Viral, ABC News, July 1, 2008


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Lindsay Lohan Sued for Los Angeles Personal Injury by Pedestrian, California Injury Lawyers, January 25, 2012

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Resigns from Congress to Focus on Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury, California Injury Lawyers, January 24, 2012

To find out whether you have grounds for a case, contact Howard Law, PC and ask to speak with Anaheim Car Accident Attorney Vincent Howard.