Invasions of Privacy

Years ago – more than a decade – I recall reading an article. The article predicted there would be a new wave of lawsuits. This wave would deal with invasion of privacy lawsuits. I haven’t seen it. While there appears to be a slight uptick; there has hardly been a wave. I’m not even certain the water has risen. Nevertheless, I am still able to report on invasion of privacy cases. The clearest example I know of a privacy invasion comes from a landlord-tenant case. In that case, a landlord was piqued at a tenant because rent wasn’t being paid. The landlord decided to take matters into his own hands. The landlord, with a little help, moved all of the tenant’s belongings out onto the front lawn. In the course of moving the landlord’s stuff, he found a picture. The picture showed the tenant in the act of intercourse. Did I mention that the landlord was piqued as in feeling irritated or resentful? The landlord took the nude photo of the tenant and posted the picture on the bulletin board outside the apartment complex. Now it was the tenant who was piqued. The tenant sued the landlord for invasion of privacy. The result was predictable but the damages weren’t. The tenant prevailed and recovered judgment in excess of $60,000! Posting those pictures proved to be foolhardy. While there are several ways to invade someone’s privacy, one way appears more common than others. For example: it is an invasion of privacy to publicly disclose matters that are private. Think of the photograph described above. Who would want that put on a community bulletin board? It is an invasion of privacy to appropriate, for someone else’s benefit or advantage, another person’s name or likeness. A person’s name and identity belongs to them – no one else. When someone profits from using someone else’s name or likeness, or the use is unlicensed, they can be sued. Think Cher or Madonna here. Defamation and invasion of privacy actions can be related. For example, it is an invasion of privacy to publish something that places a person in a false light in the public eye. It is possible to both defame someone and invade their privacy. Damages will be paid only once – but there are two separate and distinct paths to success. Finally, it is an invasion of privacy to interfere with someone’s physical and/or mental solitude. This involves the invasion of something that is intended to be secret, secluded or private. Again the nude picture comes to mind. When privacy is invaded, damages are often available. Damages can be recovered for the harm caused to a person’s interest in privacy resulting from the invasion. Pierre Salinger – formerly a local resident – valued privacy a great deal. If his privacy was invaded, the harm might be considerable. Damages are also available for the mental distress caused by the invasion as long as this distress is of the sort normally resulting from such an invasion. Damages are also awarded for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in dealing with such an invasion. In thinking about the importance of solitude, I am moved by what Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Solitude can be so rewarding that it’s invasion is generally actionable.