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Invasion of Privacy: Intrusion

Intrusion, or intrusion upon seclusion, is a type of invasion of privacy that involves interference with the solitude or seclusion of another. But simply intruding on the privacy of someone isn't enough to make a person liable for intrusion: the law requires the person filing an intrusion lawsuit to prove that the intrusion happened in a certain way. This article will describe in detail the specific requirements of an intrusion lawsuit and what a plaintiff can recover.

What's Needed for a Successful Intrusion Claim

Laws governing intrusion can vary from state to state. However, in most states a plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) must prove that all of the following occurred:

  • The defendant (the person being sued) intentionally invaded the plaintiff's privacy.
  • The intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
  • The intrusion was on a private matter of the plaintiff's.
  • The intrusion caused the plaintiff emotional anguish or suffering.

Each of the sections below explains more fully what each of these requirements (also called "elements") means for a person considering an intrusion lawsuit. One important thing to remember about an intrusion claim is that intrusion doesn't necessarily mean that a person trespasses onto the property of another. In some states, intrusion can take place if the defendant invaded the plaintiff's privacy by using a zoom lens or sensitive eavesdropping equipment, even if he never stepped foot on the plaintiff's property.

Intentionally Invading the Plaintiff's Privacy

Perhaps the most important element of an intrusion claim is that the defendant needed to have the intent to invade the plaintiff's privacy. In other words, you can't make an intrusion claim if the defendant accidentally invaded your privacy. For example, suppose a person used a high-powered telescope for stargazing late at night, and while he was adjusting the telescope accidentally saw a woman in the house next door for a few seconds. The woman probably could not bring an intrusion claim against the stargazer because he did not purposely invade her privacy.

Highly Offensive to a Reasonable Person

This second element means that the invasion of privacy must be so extreme that it caused the plaintiff more than just embarrassment or discomfort. That is, the type of intrusion has to be so offensive that practically anybody would be distressed by it. This would also rule out claims by persons who may be hypersensitive in some way and who would feel distress where an average or reasonable person would not.

Private Matter to the Plaintiff

This element means that the intrusion was in a place or activity where the plaintiff had a reasonable expectation that her activities would not be viewed. For example, while a person has an expectation of privacy while engaging in an activity in her house, such as putting on makeup, she wouldn't have the same expectation of privacy doing the same activity in a car parked in front of her house.

Anguish or Suffering Caused by the Intrusion

This final element means that the plaintiff suffered emotional harm due to the surprise or humiliation of having her privacy invaded. The anguish or suffering can happen at the same time that the intrusion occurred, such as if someone discovered a person taking pictures through a bathroom window. However, an intrusion claim is also allowed even if the emotional harm happened after the intrusion. This could happen if a plaintiff later discovered photographs of her doing a private activity, even if she was unaware of being photographed at the time.

Damages for an Intrusion Claim

A plaintiff with a successful intrusion claim can receive financial compensation from the defendant. It's not necessary for the plaintiff to prove any monetary losses - the defendant may need to pay the plaintiff to make up for emotional distress or mental anguish he caused. Generally, the greater the emotional distress caused by the intrusion, the greater the damages to which the plaintiff may be entitled.

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