×

Blog

Can I Sue for Invasion of Privacy?

December 13, 2023    •    6 min read

Privacy has been recognized as a fundamental right in our country, and the violation of this right can have profound implications. In an era dominated by technology and constant connectivity, concerns about invasion of privacy have become increasingly prevalent. If you find yourself a victim of privacy infringement, taking legal action might be a viable course of action. This article from Buckingham explores the different types of invasion of privacy, the key aspects of filing a lawsuit for invasion of privacy, and offers insights into the legal process and potential outcomes.

The Importance of Privacy

In today’s online world, your privacy can be more important than ever. Privacy as a right of individuals has been recognized by Courts in the US for centuries. The concept of privacy as a fundamental right grows out of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibitions on unreasonable search and seizure under the 4th Amendment. Courts have consistently used the same concepts to expand this scope of privacy to protect a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Courts have long recognized that there are certain areas, and certain information, over which a person has an expectation to be private, and free from public disclosure.

This concept of expectation of privacy is increasingly more important as our lives become more and more online. Being able to maintain your privacy is increasingly more difficult, and this context increases the harm caused by invasions into that privacy. Should this privacy be taken advantage of and exploited, you may have a cause of action.

What is Invasion of Privacy – Legally?

The term invasion of privacy is used in many different contexts but can be difficult to define. Generally, invasion of privacy involves some sort of intrusion into a private space or a disclosure of private information. While there are generally four different types of invasion of privacy claims, there are several common elements to each cause of action.

First, a common element of almost all invasion of privacy causes of action is the “reasonable expectation of privacy.” If an individual has a reasonable expectation that certain information or activities are private, and someone intentionally intrudes upon that privacy, there may be grounds for legal action. 

Second, in general, the invasion of privacy must be offensive to the reasonable person. This incredibly vague element stands for the proposition that the disclosure or invasion must be extreme or outrageous to the point that a ‘reasonable’ person, or juror, would be upset. This element can be incredibly dependent on the context but is a common element in each cause of action.

Third, the intrusion or invasion must not be of a public concern. Stated more plainly, the invasion of your privacy must not have any legitimate purpose, including public safety or other privilege. 

Fourth, the invasion or intrusion must have caused the person cognizable damages. This element of damages mirrors proving damages in a defamation case. Generally, however, a person must show that they suffered some sort of economic or emotional harm as a result of the invasion. 

Whether these involve an actual physical intrusion, or disclosure of private information, these violations of your privacy can have a huge impact on your life. 

A user sits at a laptop computer and types private information using a black keyboard.

Can I Sue for Invasion of Privacy?

The ability to sue for invasion of privacy depends on the specific circumstances surrounding the alleged violation and the jurisdiction in which you reside. Invasion of privacy is a broad legal concept that encompasses several distinct torts, and the viability of a lawsuit will hinge on the nature of the intrusion and the applicable laws. Read about the four main types of invasion of privacy torts in the next section.

Invasion of Privacy Causes of Action

While each state has different causes of actions under the ‘invasion of privacy umbrella, there are four main types of invasion of privacy that appear in numerous jurisdictions. 

Intrusion Upon Seclusion

Intrusion upon seclusion involves an unwanted intrusion, both physical or electronic, into a private space or area. This cause of action used to require an actual physical intrusion in most jurisdictions, but has been expanded in recent years to include intrusions into electronic spaces such as computers, accounts, and social media profiles. 

Public Disclosure of Private Facts

Public Disclosure of Private facts is generally defined as giving publicity to a matter that concerns a person’s private life. This claim was most prevalent in the past when someone’s sexual orientation would be disclosed against the person’s wishes. This claim also arises when medical conditions and financial records are disclosed publicly. 

False Light

False Light invasion of privacy occurs when someone presents facts or statements in a manner in which to portray the Plaintiff in a manner which is false or misleading. An example of false light would be a newspaper publishing a picture of a bystander next to a headline about a drunk driver causing a car crash. The implication, or false light, the person in the picture would be placed in would be that he or she was the driver responsible for the crash. This could subject the newspaper to liability even though they didn’t make any statements about the person in question. 

Appropriation

Appropriation is the last form of invasion of privacy. A person or entity is liable for appropriation when they use a person’s name, image or likeness for commercial purposes. This invasion of privacy is obviously problematic as a person should have the right to decide whether their personage is used for a commercial purpose, and to be compensated for that use as well. 

How to Sue for Invasion of Privacy

If you feel that you have suffered an invasion of your privacy, you’ll want to speak with and choose a defamation attorney who is experienced in invasion of privacy law, and how to best pursue those types of actions. As with defamation, invasions of privacy claims are incredibly intricate and can contain numerous privileges and defenses that can sink a case. However, if you feel that your privacy has been infringed upon, there are several immediate steps you can take right away to ensure your best chance at success:

  1. Document Everything

Before doing anything else, it is important to document all the evidence that you have to make sure that you will be able to prove your case at trial. Whether you have statements, login information, pictures, text messages, or any other evidence, ensuring that you have preserved this evidence will put you on the front foot when pursuing a lawsuit and allow you to properly prove your case. This applies not only to evidence of intrusion, but also evidence of your damages, including financial harm and emotional distress that you have sustained. 

  1. Issue a Demand Letter

Depending on the invasion, and the damage that it is causing, issuing a demand letter to the person responsible can be an important first step. Informing the person that you are 1) aware of their intrusion and 2) intend to do something about it if it does not stop can help achieve the goal of stopping the invasions of your privacy and allow you to get relief without entering into the lengthy legal process. 

  1. Prepare your Complaint

To begin preparing your complaint, you must first determine your jurisdiction. Determining your jurisdiction is incredibly important to figuring out how long you have to file your suit and what claims you can pursue. Not every state has the same causes of action or statute of limitations. To ensure that you will succeed, it is important to figure out the best place to file your lawsuit and then determine the best claims to pursue. 

Once you have picked out your jurisdiction, you can then start to prepare your complaint, and include the evidence that you have properly documented. Consulting with an attorney is incredibly helpful at this stage to make sure that you have satisfied each element for each cause of action you are pursuing. 

Conclusion

Filing a lawsuit for invasion of privacy is a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of the legal principles involved. Consulting with an experienced attorney is crucial to navigate the intricacies of privacy law and increase the chances of a successful outcome. As technology continues to evolve, the importance of protecting one’s privacy through legal means becomes increasingly significant in our interconnected world.

If you feel that you have suffered an invasion of your privacy, it is important to consult with an attorney who is experienced in pursuing those types of actions. As with defamation, invasions of privacy claims are incredibly intricate and can contain numerous privileges and defenses that can sink a case.

If you wish to pursue a case for invasion of privacy, contact Andrew Stebbins and Christina Williams of Buckingham’s Defamation team to set up your free consultation. 

Share this:

Andrew Stebbins

Partner | Cleveland

[email protected] 216.736.4233

Christina Williams

Associate | Cleveland

[email protected] 216-736-4234

CONNECT WITH Andrew

Our attorneys will provide a collaborative, thoughtful approach to your legal needs. We look forward to connecting with you.