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Is Defamation Or Invasion Of Privacy A Baltimore Personal Injury Claim?

The hallmark of any Baltimore personal injury case is an injury to a victim’s body, emotional or psychological state, or both. There are a variety of legal theories that could support such a claim. To the extent that either defamation or invasion can lead to an award of monetary damages or compensation, they can absolutely be considered personal injury cases. In any personal injury claim, the goal of the claim is to recover monetary compensation in the form of damages, that compensate or “make whole” the injured person for injuries which victim has sustained in the injury-causing event, transaction or occurrence. Perhaps the most common, frequent legal theory used to justify an award of compensatory damages is that of negligence. Negligence is, in many respects, doing something that a reasonable person in similar circumstances would not do, or, conversely, failing to take the action that a reasonable person in an identical situation, would, in fact take [although there are degrees or fault- garden variety negligence, gross negligence etc.]. Maryland negligence law provides to where there is a duty to act, or duty to not act, as appropriate, and one fails and this failure results in injury to another person, compensatory damages are appropriate.

For the sake of illustration, perhaps the archetypal personal injury claim in Baltimore is that of a car accident, caused by negligence, that causes bodily injury to another. There are a variety of legal theories that might support that same result. For example, an assault in Maryland is either striking someone in an offensive and non-consensual manner, or threatening to strike someone, or otherwise threatening to harm them with the present ability to do so and/or attempting to do so.  If the target of the assault has sustained injury, either in the form of physical injury as the result of harmful physical contact, or potentially emotional injury or psychological injury in the form of a condition arising from the fear, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress from the attack, they would be entitled to recompense and monetary compensatory damages. The legal theory that would lead to the result is “assault” [or battery].

In much the same way, defamation of character, or potentially an invasion of privacy or a claim based on privacy principles, may be considered a personal injury case, certainly analytically. Moreover, as a practical matter, in the sense that either action, if successful, result in an award of compensatory damages from a results perspective, it also make sense to consider defamation a personal injury action. Under Maryland law, defamation occurs where a defendant ‘publishes’ to a third party, an untrue statement of fact about a plaintiff, and does so maliciously with the knowledge that the statement is false, and that statement results in harm. That target of the statement person brings a Baltimore lawsuit for defamation. In the same vein, there are a variety of legal theories that involve invasion of privacy. Whether that be an outright divulging of personal, private information about another, without cause, or attributing to that person characteristics, they do not possess, a successful plaintiff in either such a case would be entitled to recover economic damages -for example, if they lost a job or employment opportunity or any income as a direct and proximate result of the defamatory statement or privacy invasion, they would be entitled to collect those lost wages as part of their economic damage award. In such a case, the plaintiff may also feel embarrassed or humiliated by the statements. They may have to seek the help of a mental health professional and coping with these feelings as well as stress and anxiety generated the invasion or lie about them. Such an individual might feel betrayed by having deeply personal information communicated in a public forum. These injuries to the psyche of the impacted plaintiff may well form the basis of a non-economic damage claim. There may not be physical injuries, as in Baltimore car accident claim it in defamation or invasion of privacy suit. But, it has hard to conceive, in a meritorious claim, that some level of emotional damage and injury would not be present.

It is in this regard -that of injury rather than mechanism- I find the similarities between a more garden-variety personal injury claim, or premises liability case, really match up well with the claim for defamation or invasion of privacy claim. In any, one sees an individual physically or emotionally injured by the misconduct of another, who wants to be compensated for their loss. In a claim premised on negligence, the injuries are typically physical -although in a catastrophic case, a claim for emotional distress seems perfectly possible.  In the case of an invasion of privacy, one typically sees an individual who has been injured by the misconduct up of another who seeks compensation for their losses as well. In this latter scenario, the injuries are typically emotional distress, turmoil, anxiety, angst, and other associated feelings. But the injuries are real, and personal, in every sense that the physical injuries are real and personal. In the former, the stereotypical Baltimore car accident personal injury claim, physical injuries are caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. In a defamation or invasion case, emotional injuries are generated by a defendant maliciously uttering untruths or divulging personal and confidential information to the public. In my mind, that’s really the only substantive difference that of mechanism of injury, not whether or not there is a personal injury. In either paradigm, both of the victims in these scenarios are injured, one physically, one perhaps emotionally or psychologically, but the differences stop there. In both claims an injured individual simply seeks recompense and compensation for a wrong inflicted by another, without cause, in violation of a legal principle, set forth under Maryland law.