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Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Privacy Tort in Illinois

Written by Ankin Law Office

A recent Illinois Supreme Court explicitly affirms the tort of intrusion upon seclusion in Illinois, and goes one step further to find that employers can be found liable for the privacy tort based on the actions of their agents.

The allegations in Lawlor v. North American Corporation of Illinois, Case No. 112530 (Oct. 18, 2012) centered on allegations that private investigation firms hired by an employer had tortuously invaded the plaintiff’s privacy while she was with the company. The employer, North American Corporation had hired the private investigation firms to determine whether the plaintiff, Kathleen Lawlor, was violating her covenant not to compete by contacting North American customers. As part of its investigation, the investigation firms obtained the plaintiff’s personal phone records by pretending to be the plaintiff. The investigation firms them handled over the phone records to North American.

The plaintiff claimed that her employer’s possession of private and illicitly obtained phone records caused her to experience sleeplessness and anxiety.

North American did not dispute the fact that the phone records were obtained without authorization and constituted a tortuous intrusion to her seclusion. Instead, North American argued that there was no evidence that North American had been the one to obtain the phone records, and that no agency relationship existed between North American and the investigation firms since it lacked knowledge of how the phone records were obtained.

The Illinois Supreme Court disagreed with the employer’s assessment and found that a jury could reasonably infer that North American was aware that the plaintiff’s phone records were not publicly available. Since North American had provided non-public personal information, including plaintiff’s birth date, address, phone number, and social security number, to the investigation firms, it had created an agency relationship. In essence, North American was a principal with control over its agents (the investigation firms) by directing them to obtain specific information and providing them with the tools to obtain that information.

The Lawlor decision confirms that plaintiffs may have a cause of action against their employers if personal information is used to obtain nonpublic information. The privacy tort is considered an intentional tort, which involve a purposeful wrongdoing that causes an injury to the plaintiff. Unlike other personal injury cases personal injury cases that are centered on theories of negligence or strict liability, recovery for intentional torts is not limited to medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering, and it may also include punitive damages.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of an intentional tort, you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Chicago privacy attorneys at Ankin Law Office to discuss a possible intentional tort case.

Categories: Personal Injury