The End of Electronic Ambulance Chasing

The End of Electronic Ambulance Chasing

For Immediate Release:

WASHINGTON STATE – In a federal class-action lawsuit filed by attorneys James R. Sweetser and Thomas Jarrard, of Spokane Washington, the motion for a preliminary injunction was granted by United States District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson. The Chief of the Washington State Patrol has been restrained from releasing the addresses, driver license numbers, dates of birth, sex, height, and weight of car accident victims in violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.

James R. Sweetser, the former elected Spokane County Prosecutor, provided evidence that the State Patrol systematically sells personal information on collision reports to third parties for purposes that would not be permitted under the DPPA.

To obtain the Preliminary Injunction, Sweetser had to prove that the underlying lawsuit is likely to succeed, that irreparable harm is likely to occur without the preliminary injunction, and that halting the WSP’s unlawful disclosures immediately is in the public interest. It also required that potential injury to citizens caused by unlawful disclosure outweighs any potential damage from halting them.

Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson did not mince words when ruling that the high standards had been met. She emphasized the egregious risks to the public when personal information in traffic collision reports is distributed for any nefarious purpose:

“In the age of the internet, when information is made public quickly and without borders, it is nearly impossible to contain an impermissible disclosure after the fact, as information can live on in perpetuity in the ether to be shared for any number of deviant purposes.”

“[T]he WSP’s current practice of selling un-redacted collision reports could needlessly expose individuals who have been in automobile accidents in Washington to having their private information compromised…There appears to be no valid governmental purpose that is furthered by indiscriminately providing collision reports that display private individuals’ personal information…

[T]he hardships imposed on individuals whose information is disclosed on collision reports are far-ranging and significant… the public has a vital interest in the protection of personal information and in preventing it from being sold indiscriminately to anyone...”

Jade Wilcox, the lead plaintiff, responded to the news: “I am very pleased that our personal information will be secure and that our privacy will be protected. I did not consent to release my personal information to the world just because I was in a collision. I am very happy that others will not have to worry about the ramifications going forward.”

James R. Sweetser issued the following statement: “When a government official decides to sell citizens’ most sensitive personal information in contravention of federal law, it exposes all citizens in Washington state to stalking, identity theft, and harassment by mass marketers. Today I am proud the first steps necessary to end the practice of harvesting names, addresses and telephone numbers from collision reports has taken place. It has been a long journey to get to this point. History proves that when the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act is not followed citizens are at risk of identity theft, stalking, and even murder. The protection of the people is more important than profit.”

The order will go into effect in 14 days, on June 23 2017.

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