What are the elements of a public disclosure of private facts claim?

States laws vary when it comes to recognizing privacy torts, which includes false liability, intrusion, appropriation, and disclosure of private facts. Apart from any other liability, the legal obligation for public disclosure of private facts happens when a person publicizes a matter which is related to another person’s private life. This can be a matter that could be highly private and out of any individual’s concern. 

The following are some of the requirements needed to be fulfilled in order to prove the offense of disclosure of private facts.

Public disclosure of private facts

There may be various elements involved in the certain disclosure of private facts but Tureen v. Equifax, Inc. 571 F.2d 411, 417 (8th Cir. 1978) requires,

“The matter is made public by communicating it to the public at large or to so many persons that the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge.”

If someone doesn’t want to defame any other individuals through disclosing the private matters publicly, then it would not be necessarily considered as a violation of public publication of facts. And even if the fact is disseminated to more than one individual but the intentions do not relate to defamation, then possibly it does not meet the threshold set for the violation of public disclosure for private facts.

Publication to few can directly hold a defendant liable but the fact questions always lie on the shoulders of judges and jury when it comes to determining the conviction. If it is determined that the private information is publicly disclosed, the court will analyze the intensity of harm one could get or the level of damages the plaintiff was exposed to.

Surprisingly, even if the first element of public disclosure does not fall true according to the state statutes, the court will not proceed with the other elements involved in the public disclosure of the private facts and possibly, the case would be dismissed.

Public disclosure of private facts
source:airdberlis.com

Truth

Another requirement to prove the public disclosure of facts is that the shared information among the public is true. If the information is not true, the court will take no time in dismissing the case.

Offensiveness

Another element that is required in the disclosure of private facts is being offensive to any other individual or people with like-mindedness. Whether it is not only offensive for the plaintiff, it could also be the one for the people who would become the part of the disclosure and build a negative perception about the plaintiff.

Defenses

Several defenses are there to avail for the plaintiff while facing a lawsuit for public disclosure of private facts. The first defense that can be used is if there’s a public benefit attached to the disclosure that is entirely needed for the day. If the disclosure is a legitimate concern of the public, then it does not contribute to the offense or act as an element that holds someone liable for the disclosure of the private facts.

The court generally admits that every event is connected to public interest along with the private lives of public figures like politicians, movie stars, athletes, etc. So sharing the information which is supposed to be a private fact and is not offensive will not constitute an element for the disclosure of the private fact.

Another defense that is supposed to be a qualified privilege is, if the plaintiff agrees on the disclosure of the private facts or consents on the disclosure of the information, then it would not be a violation of the public disclosure of the private facts litigation. 

There are also some recognized private interests of the sexual and financial aspects of one’s life aspects, relationships, and health records that constitutes the vioaiton of public disclosure of private facts. The court will also determine the facts of how other than the plaintiff would feel if they were exposed to similar publicity acts.

Damages and Remedy based on the new tort

If the required elements for the liability of the public disclosure of the private facts meet, then the court will obligate the defendant to make the best effort to mitigate the damages. The court will grant complete compensation for monetary damages.

A judge requires that a defendant should work and make its best effort to return the previous image or the positive fame of the plaintiff. Part of the verdict can be eliminating all the reasons the defendant used to defame the plaintiff whether online or through legal/illegal platforms that may harm the image of the plaintiff further in the future.

Damages and Remedy based on the new tort
source:barbaraiweins.com

Here, if someone had experienced the trauma after the disclosure of her/his intimate images, the defendant would be liable for the emotional distress that plaintiff had been exposed to and the foreseeable future consequences.

Also, on determining that the defendant’s conduct was unacceptable, they could also be held liable for punitive, aggravated, general, and special damages.

On the other side, a plaintiff is also awarded for the damages suffered for the public disclosure of the private facts. These awards include but are not limited to

  • A penalty amount of up to $80,000 for the damages that the plaintiff suffered against their loss and suffering.
  • An amount of $25,000 for the aggravated damages for misusing the position of trust.
  • A charge of $50,000 for the content posted online without the consent barring unforeseen damages to the plaintiff’s image.
  • $30,000 will also be awarded to the plaintiff to cover the loss she bore on treatments and moving from the residents or if the publicity made her lose the job (in applicable scenarios).

Statute of limitations

As said earlier, state laws for the public disclosure of private facts may vary across states. Also, they can be much more severe if all the required elements are identified true. The statute of limitations of every state also describes the limitations for the plaintiff such as after how long a plaintiff can sue a defendant.

These state limitations are intentionally kept to promote justice and avoid cases clogging the court trials. However, the period of filing the lawsuit against such cases begins from the first date of publication to one to three years of publication. And then again, the limitation period varies across states along with the penalties.

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