Should you worry about the content of your teen’s tweets or your spouse’s Pinterest posts? All it takes is for one tweet to veer away from commentary to defamation, or one image to invade another’s privacy, and you could face a lawsuit.
The liability portion of your homeowners policy covers you for certain types of liability. The standard homeowners policy covers liability for property damage and bodily injury. If you have a covered claim, your policy will pay for your legal defense costs and any settlements or awards you become legally obligated to pay.
This means that if you or a covered household member unintentionally damage or destroy another person’s property, your homeowners policy would cover you. It would also pay if you unintentionally caused physical harm to another person. For example, if a visitor tripped on a loose paver on your front walkway and broke his arm, your policy would pay his medical and lost work time costs plus your attorney costs, minus your deductible..
In addition to bodily injury, a person can also suffer “personal injury.” These non-physical injuries can include wrongful eviction, false arrest, defamation and violation of privacy. The standard homeowners policy does not cover these claims.
Once posted on social media, your words become public. If your postings cross the line from casual observation to defamation, your target might threaten a lawsuit. Likewise, anything you post that someone perceives as an invasion of their privacy could lead to a lawsuit. Since the target hasn’t suffered any bodily injury, your homeowners policy won’t cover you. Any legal defense costs, settlements or damages will come out of your pocket.
When defamation occurs in oral statements, it’s called slander. In print—as on Facebook or other social media—it’s libel.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines defamation as the injury of another person’s reputation by “false and malicious” statements. Note the “and” — to be defamatory, statements must be both false and malicious. If your daughter mentioned on Facebook that her classmate Sarah drives a blue car, when in fact it’s black, the statement might be false, but it’s not malicious. Sarah’s reputation wouldn’t suffer any harm. But what if your daughter said on Facebook that Sarah shoplifted a designer bag from the local department store? If it wasn’t true, your daughter would be defaming Sarah’s reputation. But if Sarah had already been tried and convicted as a shoplifter, posting that true fact on Facebook would not be defamation.
Invasion of Privacy
What about invasion of privacy? Invasion of privacy can be literal — as when a landlord doesn’t respect a tenant’s privacy rights. People also have privacy rights surrounding their likeness or photographs.
Laws vary by state, but you’ll have fewer legal repercussions photographing and publishing anything visible in a public space. If your neighbor decides to walk stark naked down Main Street at noon and you post a photo on Facebook? You’re probably safe. If he sunbathes in the nude in his backyard and you take a photo through the fence? Invasion of privacy!
So you want to become a paparazzi photographer? You can generally publish images of “public figures,” including politicians and celebrities, as long as they are in a public place when you take the photo. If they are in a privately owned space open to the public, such as a restaurant or shopping mall, look for signs. Unless the owner specifically forbids photography, you might be safe.
Private citizens have a higher expectation of privacy. Context matters. If you’re photographing a newsworthy public event, you have greater leeway. You could probably safely publish a photo of a group of women taken at a protest, for example, even if they are individually recognizable. The same group of women at the beach for a travel article? You’d be wise to make sure they weren’t recognizable, or to get their permission. And using the same shot of women on the beach for an advertisement? Absolutely not, unless you get permission.
Laws in most states protect the rights of children and others incapable of protecting themselves. Whenever publishing photographs of children and mentally handicapped individuals, you should get a parent or guardian’s consent.
To protect your family from costly non-bodily injury liability claims, you can buy a personal injury endorsement. This policy addition broadens your policy’s definition of bodily injury to include personal injuries, such as false arrest, false imprisonment, defamation, invasion of privacy, malicious prosecution, wrongful eviction and wrongful entry.
Like the rest of your homeowners coverages, the endorsement will probably exclude coverage for business-related activities, such as defaming a business competitor on your business blog. It will also exclude coverage for claims resulting from and intentional or illegal activities.
You can also buy an umbrella liability policy to add personal injury coverage. People buy umbrella liability policies primarily to obtain additional liability coverage, from $1 to $10 million, over their homeowners policy’s limits. When you have a costly claim that exhausts your homeowners policy’s limits, coverage under your umbrella will kick in.
The umbrella policy also provides coverage that the standard homeowners policy lacks. Most broaden the definition of bodily injury to include personal injury. It will also cover you for claims that exceed your personal auto policy.
Since children and teens are usually heavy social media users, any household with children or teens should have coverage for personal injury. Both the homeowners policy personal injury endorsement and the umbrella liability policy will cover family members living in your household.
Personal umbrella policies don’t cover the everyday risks that homeowners policies do, so they cost a lot less for the amount of coverage you receive. You can often get limits of $1 million for around $200 per year. For more information, please contact us.