The Price of Invading Privacy? A $140 Million Body Slam.

March 2016’s large damages awards in civil trials regarding privacy show that personal privacy is a big deal for Americans.  Terry Bollea, better known as “Hulk Hogan,” won a $140 million dollar verdict against on-line voyeur site Gawker.[1]  Hogan’s stunning verdict followed $55 million awarded to sportscaster Erin Andrews against the owners and managers of a Marriott in Nashville, and an actual voyeur Michael David Barret.[2] The takeaway from both cases seems to be that the public is pushing back against what is seen as an ever-creeping threat to privacy, especially in the current media age where sites such as Gawker and Facebook make us all a bit voyeuristic. “Some of this is a backlash against the media…but it’s also personal: People increasingly fear the loss of control over their own images and information through hacking or unauthorized sharing via social media. ‘People are feeling very insecure about their own privacy.’”[3] No longer are only celebrities fearful of the public’s interest into their private lives, but now everyone is open to the prying eyes of neighbors, friends, and total strangers. Orwell’s prescient 1984 cautioned that “Big Brother is watching”, but he was off the mark.  The Big Brother we have to worry about isn’t just the government, it is us.

As the Hulk Hogan and Andrews cases illustrate, many states recognize a right to recover for causes of action that would fall under the umbrella of ‘privacy.’ State privacy laws cover both an intrusion into our private lives and the subsequent publication of those private matters.  Even the protections historically afforded the media for publishing celebrities’ personal information appear to be eroding. We should all sleep a little easier knowing that the pendulum is swinging back in the favor of privacy, but we must continue to be vigilant.

--By Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law

Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.