Be Patient and Read the Fine Print

August 23, 2008

Invasion of privacy cases rarely succeed in Minnesota.  A decision from the state Court of Appeals this week underscored that fact.

The case, Anderson v. Mayo Clinic, involved a patient who sued Minnesota’s most-famous medical facility as well as a television station owned by Fargo-based Forum Communications.  Apparently, Mayo videotaped the patient’s surgical procedure and the videotape aired on the news.  Perhaps understandably, Ms. Anderson sued for invasion of privacy.  Problem was, she had signed a one-page form giving the clinic permission to release “photographs, audiotapes, and/or films” of her procedure to any news outlet so Mayo could “disseminate health information to the general public.”

A trial court in Moorhead let the case go forward, but on Tuesday the Court of Appeals ordered its dismissal and rejected the idea that Mayo acted with any fraud.  Wrote the court:  “Consent is an absolute defense to an invasion-of-privacy claim.”

Invasion of privacy is something easy to feel but nearly impossible to sue over.  This is particularly true in Minnesota, where for decades the Supreme Court refused to even recognize invasion of privacy as a cause of action.  Eventually, in 1998, after photos of two young women showering together during their Mexico vacation somehow made their way from a Wal-Mart photo lab into the northwestern Minnesota populace, the Minnesota Supreme Court made Minnesota the 48th state to recognize the cause of action.  (Case here.)

So read the fine print.  And get a digital camera.

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