The law provides everyone with some basic rights to privacy. Privacy is the general right to be left alone and free from unwanted publicity. Unreasonable invasion of one’s privacy causes harm.
There are four well-established types of lawsuits for invasion of privacy: appropriation; false light; intrusion; and disclosure. In most states, the rights under these lawsuits are personal. Most end when a person dies, and they do not apply to corporations and other legal entities.
This article discusses the invasion of privacy lawsuit known as disclosure or the public disclosure of private facts.
People have a general right to freedom from having their private matters disclosed to the public without their consent. Disclosure is defined as revealing private facts that are not matters of legitimate public concern. A disclosure lawsuit is for unreasonably revealing private facts about a person that are not matters of legitimate public concern. One classic example is where, without the consent of the person involved, someone publishes pictures of two people making love in the “privacy” of their own bedroom.
The basic elements of disclosure are (1) unreasonably, either intentionally or negligently, (2) revealing private facts about the plaintiff that are not matters of legitimate public concern. Because of the law of standing, generally only the person whose private fact have been disclosed, or his or her guardian, can bring the lawsuit. Special damages and punitive damages, if any, must also be proven.
The defendant in a disclosure can challenge the plaintiff’s proof of the basic elements of intrusion. For example, the defendant may be able to show that the facts that the defendant disclosed were matters of legitimate public concern.
After a person becomes a public official or public figure, many of the matters of that person which would otherwise be private, become matters of legitimate public concern. In Sidis v. F-R Publishing Corp., for example, the defendant published an article recounting that the plaintiff, a famous child prodigy, had become an eccentric recluse Although the disclosure of the plaintiff’s whereabouts and activities disturbed the plaintiff, the court ruled in favor of the defendant. The court ruled that the defendant had not disclosed any details about the plaintiff’s life to which a normal person could reasonably object.
A common defense to invasion of privacy is consent, express or implied. A person who accepts money or other considerations in exchange for the invasion of privacy is said to have sold his or her “rights.” Also, some defendants, such as prosecutors, have immunity if they are acting within the scope of their authority.
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