[UPDATED with $2.375 Million Payday:] Nicole "Nikki" Catsouras' Family Settles with CHP Over Release of Grisly Crash Photos

Categories: Court
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UPDATE, JAN. 31, 8:49 A.M.: The family of the late Nicole "Nikki" Catsouras, whose disfigured body is featured in images all over the Internet thanks to the actions of California Highway Patrol employees, will receive $2.375 million as part of the court settlement announced Friday, the CHP announced.

ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 30, 1:42 P.M.: The California Highway Patrol and the family of an 18-year-old woman who was nearly decapitated in an Oct. 31, 2006, traffic accident have settled a lawsuit her family brought against the CHP over horrific images of the deceased spreading on the Internet.

The family of Nicole "Nikki" Catsouras will reportedly be paid a significant amount of money, and the CHP will work with her parents, Lesli and Christos Catsouras of Ladera Ranch, to get the offending photographs removed from websites.

The young woman was driving a Porsche 911 southbound on the 241 toll road the afternoon of Halloween 2006 when she clipped a car she was trying to pass at more than 100 mph and lost control. On normal freeways around here, the Porsche would have collided with a cement barrier separating traffic moving in opposite directions. But because the toll road only has a median, the Porsche drifted into the northbound lane where it smacked into a tollbooth.

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Highway Patrol employees Thomas O'Donnell and Aaron Reich emailed crash photos, including closeups of Nikki Catsouras, to friends and family members. The images later went viral. Catsouras' parents sued for $20 million on behalf of their daughter, but Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven L. Perk found that the family had not standing to file a complaint.

However, the Santa Ana-based California Court of Appeal--calling O'Donnell and Reich's actions "vulgar" and "morally deficient"--reversed Perk in February 2010, finding that the family could sue for for intentional infliction of emotional distress and sending the case back to the lower court.

"The photographs were downloaded or otherwise transmitted to one or more CHP computers," the justices observed. "O'Donnell and Reich, without [the family's consent], e-mailed or otherwise transmitted graphic and horrific photographs of the decedent to members of the public who were not involved in the official investigation of the car crash. Thereafter, more than 2,500 Internet Web sites in the United States and United Kingdom posted the photographs. [The victim's family was] subjected to malicious taunting by persons making use of the graphic and horrific photographs."

According to the court, the family "suffered severe emotional and mental distress."

The appellate ruling re-wrote state law concerning the rights of family members when it comes to the distribution of images of the deceased.

O'Donnell, who is fighting discipline action taken against him by the CHP, was later released from the lawsuit. Reich, who resigned from the CHP for unrelated reasons and went on to file for bankruptcy, lost another round in the suit when the appellate court in May 2006 rejected his argument that posting the photos was protected speech and an anti-DUI lesson. Catsouras had not been drinking before the accident.

In anticipation of a March trial, Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer ordered the two sides to attend a settlement conference Friday, and an agreement was reached later that day.

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33 comments
Speedkills
Speedkills

Cool, now the dad can afford to buy the remaining 3 daughters a Porsche of their own.

Imran Pangilinan
Imran Pangilinan

It reminds me about the warning signs of Need For Speed before playing the game ._. my god.

ivan
ivan

no one should be able to see their loved one online, especially after an accident, they should be deleted, but sad though internet is a beast, will be hard to delete all pictures. maybe some smart computer people can get together and delete all these pictures. rest in peace Nicole, i never knew you but your story changed my life by some degree..R.I.P. and God Bless

Francis
Francis

Nikki was an extremely beautiful young lady from a beautiful family.  I look at her dead body on the net and I wanted to look at it to show my kids what speeding can do, because most time young people are just not aware that speeding can cause death.  I am so pleased to know that nobody else was seriously hurt or died.  Would the parents be willing to pay out money if someone else was hurt because of Nikki's carelessness?   I am hoping that it was that brain tumor treatment that caused her to act without thinking.  Her family said that she had a brain tumor in the past. Nikki was so pretty.  The officers should be punished for making the pictures available to the public, but I wanted to see the pictures to remind myself and my kids how deadly speading is and to remind us that a car will have no protection to the human body when in a terrible accident

ONE MORE PORCHE
ONE MORE PORCHE

maybe they wanted the money to buy one more porche to the youngest ???????? MITT ROMNEY IS THE SON OF A MEXICAN AND A MORMON FYI :)

Frida
Frida

Stole the car from daddy, cocaine in her system, driving recklessly, passing on the right at a hundred mph.  And the family sues over some pictures?

What trash!

Mike
Mike

$2.375 Million for some photos??? Come on now! I am not saying it was right for her photos to be leaked. Her death was a tragic and needless loss. The father and mother should be ashamed to take that money. It is "Blood money". You lost a life, a child, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a Human being. The money will never bring her back! Let's see if, You spend that money and buy Cars, electronics, cloths etc... Or "DO SOMETHING IN YOUR DAUGHTERS HONOR" And open a foundation to help "the homeless" or  "teach about the very real dangers of speeding". I am in-no way saying that your daughters photos should have been posted! Shame on who ever posted them, But, for the loving memory of your child. Do what's right with the money! God Bless...  No human being deserves to die like this. We all need to learn that No Human Being is worthless!Nicole "Nikki" Catsouras. R.I.P.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Well, 2m is lot less than 20m.  I'm guessing the attorney will take 40%-50%.  This is a reasonable settlement. 

EL PEDORRERO
EL PEDORRERO

i think her parents are guilty for purchasing such a powerful car......poor rich people. "i feel sorry about my boss,because he thinks that i am poor"

Trfcmtr59
Trfcmtr59

Tragic ending to a young girl's life,  that said, she appears to have been driving the vehicle at speeds beyond her abilities to operate it safely. Score one for lack of common sense and poor judgement. trfcmtr59

Liuhabei
Liuhabei

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20ftJesus
20ftJesus

So, how much is this going to cost the taxpayer (or does the CHP have insurance for these types of things)?

949girl
949girl

I remember someone emailing me that chain email years ago...those photos were extremely graphic and gruesome.  Totally unethical for those two guys two have released the photos.  I've read comments saying she deserved what she got because she was speeding and had cocaine in her system...no one deserves to die like that and then to have it shown online.

I do agree that the photos should be used in class settings like Red Asphalt for drivers ed with the parent's permission though.  That would be the appropriate place if the parent's gave consent. 

ivan
ivan

i agree with your comment Francis. but to have them online for ANYBODY to see is just disgusting and inhumane. the remains of the car is bad enough and these guys went all the way and took close up picture of the girl?? such people deserve some type of punishment not ''25 days of leave'' or something. but there's nothing many can do now. accidents happen everyday, and people sometimes die, that's life. and yes no matter what she could have been in a honda or a lambo it was still an accident...i read online that the family paid for the other driver who was injured, do you happen to know his name? if not whatever then, this is one of those stories thats just hard to forget i only found out two weeks ago :/

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

It's not about the money! And to label Nikki's entire family as "trash" because of her bad decision is really cruel. I'm sure if the CHP used photos of YOUR loved one's corpse without permission you'd be angry enough to file a lawsuit, too!

Kburleigh19
Kburleigh19

The settlement is a harsh punishment, as it should be. Accident or crime scene photos should not be chain emailed as gross out pics inside the agency or spread to outside friends and family, especially in the internet age where once something is published it can be never taken back. Victims deserve to be protected not exploited by our public agencies. Because the CHP was held accountable by the Catsouras Family, I am sure the CHP as changed their policy on how photo evidence is handled.

949girl
949girl

Have you seen the pictures??  All of them?  They were extremely graphic and should never have been available to the public.  If you google image her a few pop up but they aren't even the really bad ones. 

bmrtoyo
bmrtoyo

she,stole the car ,according to reports had cocaine in her system , if you want to kill yourself in public view ,then expect the public to view it ,and so the court orders payment .bullshit,  she could have killed someone innocent ,

Savvysearch
Savvysearch

Why does that need to be pointed out? Of course the girl is at fault. But that's really not the point. 

BornInCalifornia
BornInCalifornia

LOL idiot. There is no "insurance". You aren't even in California, so STFU moron.

mitch young
mitch young

"Red Asphalt" -- man that takes me back.

909Jeff
909Jeff

Agreed!

And regardless of how you felt about her and the decision she made... Did any of them stop to think about how her family would feel?

bmrtoyo
bmrtoyo

ivan she did it in public , where "anybody" could see it  duhhhhh

Blingo
Blingo

If it's not about the money, why don't they give it back?  OF COURSE its about the money!!!  They saw a public agency with deep pockets and CHA CHING!  Payday!

Mike
Mike

I did see them. Like I said, They should not have been leaked. But, my point is to the family. The money is "Blood Money". They should do something to honor her life. Donate the money to her collage in her name, help the needed or something like that. They don't deserve a payday on their daughters pain. Nicole "Nikki" Catsouras. R.I.P.

Katequirk
Katequirk

I agree. Teens often show poor judgement, it's part of being a teen. There's only a certain amount parents can do to protect them, and after that we can only hope that our kids get through their adolescence without any major disasters. When these tragedies occur, surely the only appropriate response is compassion for the family left behind.

909Jeff
909Jeff

"Do you really believe a CHP officer would risk his or her career by puling a childish stunt like this"

I do just as much as I believe 2 San Bernardino county Sheriffs put their careers at risk to bang underage girls in the explorer program last fall...  

Victorville deputy Anthony Benjamin, 30, of Beaumont, was arrested Wednesday and accused of conducting sex acts with a 16-year-old Explorer during ride-alongs in his patrol car.

Highland deputy Nathan Gastineau, 30, of Redlands, was arrested April 22 and accused of having sex with a different 16-year-old girl, also a Sheriff's Explorer

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

To answer your question: yes. These days many officers seem to think they're above the law and should be let off the hook for crimes as serious as murder. And even if it were clerks and not CHP officers who leaked the photos, the CHP is still culpable for the irresponsible actions of ALL their employees, right? My point was that the blame should be placed where the blame is due (on the employee at the CHP) and people should stop picking on the dead woman's family for winning the lawsuit.

Denise H.
Denise H.

CHP "officers" did NOT email these pictures. The idiots who emailed these pictures were clerks of some sort. Do you really believe a CHP officer would risk his or her career by puling a childish stunt like this?

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

Maybe they'll give some of it to charity...or create a foundation in Nikki's name? Who knows? But go ahead and keep picking on her family for bringing the lawsuit and don't chastise the stupidity of the CHP officers that made it necessary for the Catsouras to sue in the first place...sheesh.

Denise H.
Denise H.

I believe the settlement is for THEIR pain, not their daughter's pain. The family was violated when a CHP employee emailed the photos of their dead, mangled daughter to friends and family for their viewing enjoyment.  I do NOT think this money is "blood money". We as citizens pay for police services with our tax dollar. In return we expect a level of service. We expect the police to come when we call them. We also expect that any photos taken of an accident are to be used as evidence and are to be viewed ONLY by authorized personal. The unauthorized release of those photos was the ultimate violation of this family in their time of grief.  The family deserves something. I don't know about millions of dollars but they deserve something for what this idiot CHP clerk or what ever he was did. The family should have also sued the employee but I sure a loser such as himself lives in a studio apt. in Anaheim, drives an old beater and has a negative bank balance.

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