Family Files Lawsuit Over Use of Dead Relative's Photo on 'Southland'

A woman and her daughter filed a lawsuit Monday charging an autopsy photo of their son/brother who was murdered that is part of a montage at the beginning of the TV show Southland violates their privacy, has inflicted great distress and caused other problems.

The suit in Los Angeles Superior Court claims the picture of their dead relative was misappropriated and has unjustly enriched the defendants.

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The suit was filed by Hilda Abarca and Jessica Abarca on their own behalf and as successor to the late Andy Nelson Abarca, who the suit says was murdered in 2005.

The defendants are Warner Bros. Television, producer John Wells, NBC, Turner Network Television, the city of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles and Warner Home Video. 

According to the suit Andy Nelson Abarca was murdered on Sept. 28, 2005. In mid-September 2013 the plaintiffs say they saw his autopsy photo at the beginning of Southland, apparently taken while his body was in the custody of the country coroner.

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They had no knowledge of the photo and never authorized its release, per the suit.

Southland aired on NBC in April and May 2009 and then on TNT for four seasons, before ending its five-season run in April 2013. It was described in press materials as a realistic show about Los Angeles police officers, both their lives and work.

As a result of the use of this photo, the suit says both the mother and daughter have “suffered anxiety, anger, hopelessness, fear and distrust of authority,” as well as “physical and emotional discomfort, injury and damage,  apprehension, psychological trauma, loss of dignity, nightmares, loss of trust” and other injuries.

The suit says this has impacted their health, strength and activity and caused injury to their nervous system and person. It means they will have to incur expenses to treat psychological injuries using drugs and others “sundries” required in the treatment.

The suit says the deceased is easily identifiable on the TV show and that his image is essential to the promotion, advertising, marketing and sales of the show.

The suit seeks damages of at least $750 for each unauthorized use (every time the show played) as well as punitive damages and an injunction to stop the future use of  the photo.

A spokesman for Warner Bros. TV, who represents the studio, the home video division, the producers and the networks mentioned, said they have not yet been served with the lawsuit, so they have no comment.

Calls to spokesman for the city and county of Los Angeles made after regular business hours were not immediately returned.