In the United States, every person has a right to privacy. In the most straightforward sense, this is the right to be left alone; in broader terms, it is a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. When an individual feels that her right to privacy has been violated in some way, she may sue for invasion of privacy.
Four Types of Privacy Violations
There are four primary ways in which an individual’s privacy can be violated:
- Intrusion of his solitude
- Appropriating his name or likeness
- Publicly disclosing his personal information
- Portraying him in a false light
Intruding on an individual’s solitude includes intercepting his mail or phone calls, looking through his windows or harassing him with incessant phone calls. When a victim chooses to sue for invasion of privacy, the court is tasked with determining whether the perpetrator’s actions would be considered offensive by a reasonable individual.
Gather Evidence to Support a Privacy Lawsuit
An invasion of privacy lawsuit is a civil claim, not a criminal one. This means that there is no allegation that the defendant violated any criminal law, but that her actions did cause the plaintiff to suffer damages. When an individual opts to sue for invasion of privacy, she may claim that she suffered both monetary and non-monetary damages, including:
- Lost profits.
- Mental anguish.
- Physical injury.
- Damaged professional or social reputation and the financial losses that can follow.
- Punitive damages (in some states).
A successful invasion of privacy claim requires evidence that not only did the alleged perpetrator invade the victim’s privacy, but that the invasion caused her to suffer damages. In a civil case like this, the burden of proof – the onus to prove the event occurred through a sufficient body of evidence – is on the plaintiff.
File a Complaint With the Court
An invasion of privacy lawsuit is typically handled by the local circuit court or district court, depending on the jurisdiction where it occurs. When cases involve parties in multiple states, locations under federal jurisdiction or violations of federal law, they are handled in federal court.
The complaint is the initial form that outlines all the details of the alleged incident or series of incidents, including the accused’s name, the location where the incident occurred, the details surrounding the incident and how it caused the claimant to suffer damages. After the claimant files the complaint with the court, he receives copies of the document and serves a copy of the complaint to the alleged perpetrator. After serving the defendant, the claimant files an affidavit of service with the court, a document stating that he served the complaint on the defendant.
Settle or Prepare for Trial
Once the defendant has been served, both parties prepare for court. The first step in this process is known as discovery, during which both parties gather relevant evidence about each other, like their testimonies and information about the evidence they plan to use in court. This is often followed by efforts to settle the issue out of court, potentially through mediation or by negotiating a settlement for the plaintiff.
Not every invasion of privacy lawsuit can be settled out of court, though. When negotiations and other attempts to settle do not lead to a resolution, the case heads to court to be heard and ruled on by a judge and/or jury. After examining the evidence presented, including both parties’ testimonies, the judge rules on the case or the jury renders a verdict. If the court finds that the plaintiff did suffer damages from an invasion of privacy, it awards her an amount deemed to be appropriate compensation for those damages.