The legal phrase “intrusion of solitude”, better known as “intrusion upon seclusion”, is one of four main claims that a person can sue for under the invasion of privacy tort. It can be defined as the act of intentionally prying into a person’s private affairs or seclusion in a way that would be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person. The intrusion can occur either physically or electronically.
For example, if your neighbor intentionally installs an electronic listening device in your home without your consent or knowledge, then you may be able to bring a claim in civil court against them for intrusion upon seclusion. Alternatively, you may also file an intrusion of solitude lawsuit against them if you catch them physically rummaging through private areas in your house.
One thing to keep in mind about intrusion of solitude lawsuits is that each state has its own separate laws for what constitutes intrusion of solitude. There is also a possibility that your state does not recognize the tort since not all of them do.
Thus, it is important to check whether your state allows individuals to sue for intrusion of solitude, and if so, that you review the requirements for bringing a claim.
What Is a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?
The concept of privacy is grounded in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the Fourth Amendment is meant to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures conducted by the government and not from other private citizens, it provides a general scope for state privacy laws.
For instance, the Fourth Amendment only applies to searches or seizures that violate an individual’s “reasonable expectation of privacy”. This phrase refers to areas or aspects of a person’s life in which a reasonable person would expect to have some privacy. Many states use this as a basic guideline when creating privacy statutes.
An example of where a person would reasonably expect to have some privacy is in a restroom. If another private citizen installs a camera in a restroom located in either the person’s home or within a public restroom stall that they are using, then this would be considered an unreasonable intrusion.
Thus, the intruder could be held liable for intrusion of solitude because they intentionally invaded a space where a reasonable person would expect to have some privacy.
Additionally, while a reasonable expectation of privacy is primarily used as an objective standard, it can also extend to situations that are more subjective in nature like a personal intrusion. A personal intrusion is a scenario that affects a particular person.
For instance, if an employer revealed to a person’s co-workers that they had a sexually transmitted disease. Unlike a camera in a public restroom, this privacy intrusion only affects the individual employee.
What Do I Need to Prove to Win an Intrusion of Solitude Claim?
In order to win an intrusion of solitude claim, the plaintiff must be able to prove the following elements:
- That the defendant intentionally intruded (e.g., physically, electronically, etc.) upon some area or aspect of the plaintiff’s life;
- The intentional intrusion involved a matter in which the plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy; and
- That such an intrusion would be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person.
It should be noted that the above elements are subject to change and that there may be other elements depending on state privacy laws.
Additionally, while submitting photos, recordings, correspondence, and other physical evidence can be helpful in supporting a plaintiff’s case, they are going to need more than that to prove intrusion of solitude.
For example, to establish the first element, the plaintiff should address other factors, such as their relationship to the defendant, how the defendant carried out the act, and the amount of access that the defendant had to that aspect of the plaintiff’s life.
So, for instance, if the defendant was a total stranger who climbed a tree abutting the plaintiff’s property, wore camouflage, and used a high-tech lens to snap photos of the plaintiff in their bedroom, then the plaintiff may have a stronger case based on these facts.
In regard to the “highly offensive” element, the plaintiff can compare their case to other decisions issued in their jurisdiction. They should also illustrate the degree of the intrusion. For example, a stranger who snaps a blurry photo of the plaintiff’s window shades from hundreds of feet away, will not be considered as offensive as an ex-spouse who breaks into their former spouse’s house and takes pictures of them while they are sleeping.
What Are the Available Remedies to an Intrusion of Solitude Tort?
Some remedies that may be available to a plaintiff claiming intrusion of solitude include:
- Monetary damages;
- Punitive damages (note these are rarely ever awarded);
- Temporary restraining orders; and/or
- An injunction.
The availability of such remedies can depend on many factors. These include the individual facts and circumstances of each case, state laws, and the skill of the attorney(s) involved in working on the case. If you have specific questions or are unsure about your legal rights, a qualified attorney can assist you with your claim and inform you of your options moving forward.
What Are the Defenses to Intrusion of Solitude?
Although the types of defenses available may vary by jurisdiction and the facts of a specific case, there are three primary defenses to a claim for intrusion of solitude. These include:
- Consent: Consent is the strongest defense that a defendant can raise against a claim for intrusion of solitude. Thus, if a plaintiff consented to the intrusion, then the defendant may be able to get the case dismissed.
- Common custom: If an intrusion occurs during a situation where prying into someone’s business is common custom, then the defense may be able to argue this as a defense. For instance, dressing rooms in retail stores frequently display signs warning shoppers that they may be under surveillance.
- Public place: If the intrusive act took place in a public location or other area in which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, then the defendant can use this fact as a defense. Also, if the defense is successful, then the plaintiff’s case will most likely be dismissed.
Again, as with remedies, the availability of defenses depends on several factors, including the facts of each case, as well as state and local laws. An attorney can assist with these issues if you have any questions or concerns regarding your legal rights with regard to privacy laws.
Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer about Intrusion of Solitude?
Cases involving privacy matters can become quite complicated due to the lack of uniform privacy measures in place, and also because it is a rapidly evolving field of law. Thus, if you believe that someone has invaded your privacy or solitude, then you should contact a local personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Your lawyer can find out whether your state recognizes such actions, and if so, will know which laws and procedures to follow. Also, such laws may be subject to change, and your attorney can keep you informed of any new developments that may affect the outcome of your case.
Additionally, your lawyer can also help you prepare your case, determine the amount of potential damages you may be entitled to, and represent you in court.