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Right to Privacy Cases Overview

Invasion of privacy can happen in many ways. Let's say you're in an elevator with your friend and others. You tell your friend private information, knowing other people are listening to your conversation. Even if one of the strangers discloses personal information without your permission, that does not violate your right to privacy. But, if you're having a private conversation at home and someone uses a device to eavesdrop, you might have a valid invasion of privacy claim. Read on to learn how right-to-privacy cases and privacy law work.

Constitutional Rights Versus Personal Injury Claims

The constitutional rights afforded by the Fourth Amendment protect people from illegal searches and seizures by police officers. Also, federal courts enforce federal privacy laws, such as the Privacy Act of 1974, codified in the United States Code (U.S.C.). But, federal law only protects limited information, such as personal data held by government agencies.

The U.S. Constitution does not expressly talk about privacy rights in the context of personal injury claims. But, the U.S. Supreme Court and various State Courts of Appeal recognize common law court decisions protecting privacy. The common law around individual rights refers to historical case law created by lower courts to protect private life. The judiciary recognizes individual private rights and has extended the right of privacy to personal injury cases.

The Process of a Lawsuit for the Right to Privacy

Right-to-privacy cases (also called invasion of privacy) deal with a violation of a person's right to be free from intrusion. They also protect against the public disclosure of personal matters. Invasion of privacy is part of a legal area called tort law, or the area of law on civil wrongs.

If someone has invaded your privacy, you may file a civil lawsuit for compensation for your losses or injuries. To assert a valid invasion of privacy claim, you must show:

  1. You had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and
  2. There was an unlawful disclosure or discovery of your private matter that an average person would find offensive.

If you've been the victim of a privacy violation, you should:

  • Discover the nature of the violation
  • Ensure your safety and protection
  • Determine if you have a claim worth pursuing
  • Hire an attorney to file a complaint

Your first step is to gather as much information about the intrusion as possible. That includes photographs, videos, witnesses, and a report documenting what happened. You should contact the authorities and file a police report. After you've had a chance to organize your evidence and compose yourself, you may wonder exactly which type of privacy violation your case fits into.

Different Types of Right-to-Privacy Claims

The right to privacy can refer to many different actions. The Restatement (a widely respected legal treatise) recognizes four of the most common types of invasion of privacy claims:

  1. Intrusion of solitude. This refers to the invasion of your solitude or private affairs. Unlike other right-to-privacy claims, intrusion of solitude does not need publishing private facts or images. The act alone violates the law.
  2. Appropriation of name or likeness. This is when a person or an entity uses your name or likeness for benefit without permission. Some state courts limit this action to commercial uses only, while others provide broader statutory rights (legal rights).
  3. Public disclosure of private facts. This invasion of privacy involves a public disclosure of a non-public fact. A reasonable person would find it offensive if it goes public.
  4. False light. This is the public disclosure of information that is misleading. The disclosed information need not be false. The four elements of such cases are (1) a publication by the defendant about the plaintiff; (2) it was done with reckless disregard; (3) it places the plaintiff in a false light; and (4) it would be highly offensive or embarrassing to a reasonable person.

Invasion of privacy claims often come up alongside defamation actions. While they overlap, the former deals more with private rights, while the latter concerns one's good name and reputation.

Before Filing a Right To Privacy Claim

Before you file a lawsuit, you must ensure you have a valid claim. To have a cause of action (claim) in a right-to-privacy case, you must show elements required by state law. Besides a reasonable expectation of privacy, states may need more elements for individual causes of action. You need to organize all the information that supports your claim. After gathering the necessary evidence showing all the elements of invasion of privacy, prepare to file a complaint.

Consult with an attorney before you take any legal action. States nationwide constantly dissent or concur with one another over applying privacy laws. Each state's laws differ, from Illinois to California to New York. So, it's important to discuss your case with a local attorney.

What You May Win in Court

Generally, when you file a lawsuit, you can demand:

Available remedies will depend on your circumstances and specific state laws. For example, an invader of your privacy may injure your mental and physical health. You may have medical bills. You might also lose income. These may be recoverable as compensatory damages.

Remember that an invasion of privacy claim may be unavailable in certain cases. For example, there are exceptions and limited protections for public officials or public figures who put themselves in the public eye.

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Invasion of Privacy Claim

Right-to-privacy cases involve complex legal concepts and analysis. To successfully file a lawsuit, you need to understand all applicable laws. If someone has violated your privacy rights, you should speak with a personal injury attorney near you.

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