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Damages - Infringement of Privacy

. Jones v Tsige

In Jones v Tsige (Ont CA, 2012) the Court of Appeal recognized for the first time a tort of invasion of privacy, and set out these principles for assessing damages accordingly:
3. Damages

(a) Introduction

[74] As I have indicated, proof of actual loss is not an element of the cause of action for intrusion upon seclusion. However, the question necessarily arises: what is the appropriate approach to damages in cases, like the present, where the plaintiff has suffered no pecuniary loss? [page263]

[75] Where the plaintiff has suffered no provable pecuniary loss, the damages fall into the category of what Professor Stephen M. Waddams, The Law of Damages, looseleaf (Toronto:
Canada Law Book, 2011), at para. 10.50, describes as "symbolic" and others have labelled as "moral" damages: see Dulude v. Canada, 2000 CanLII 16085 (FCA), [2000] F.C.J. No. 1454, 192 D.L.R. (4th) 714 (C.A.), at para. 30. They are awarded "to vindicate rights or symbolize recognition of their infringement": Waddams, at para. 10.50. I agree with Prof. Waddams' observation that a conventional range of damages is necessary to maintain "consistency, predictability and fairness between one plaintiff and another".

[76] Guidance in determining an appropriate range of damages can be gleaned from existing case law from Ontario as well as from the provinces where there is a statutory cause of action.

(b) Damages under Ontario case law

[77] Although the tort of intrusion upon exclusion has not been fully recognized in Ontario law, several cases award damages for invasion of privacy in conjunction with, or under the head of, a traditional tort such as nuisance or trespass. These claims typically involve intangible harm such as hurt feelings, embarrassment or mental distress, rather than damages for pecuniary losses. I attach, as Appendix A, a summary of these cases and the damages awarded and will briefly discuss the facts of some of those cases here.

[78] In Saccone v. Orr, the court found that the proven damages were minimal; the plaintiff had not lost his job or suffered any material loss. However, acknowledging that the plaintiff's privacy was invaded and that he was embarrassed and felt that his confidence had been betrayed, the court awarded damages in the amount of $500. Similarly, in Provincial Partitions Inc. v. Ashcor Inplant Structures Ltd., 1993 CanLII 5579 (ON SC), [1993] O.J. No. 4685, 50 C.P.R. (3d) 497 (Gen. Div.), the judge found that the defendant committed the tort of nuisance by invasion of privacy through abuse of telephone communications when they called the plaintiff, a competitor company, dozens of times. The judge awarded only $500 against each defendant and because the defendants had already ceased placing the phone calls, the judge declined to provide injunctive relief.

[79] In Roth v. Roth, the plaintiff claimed $100,000 in damages for intimidation, harassment and invasion of privacy, in addition to approximately $400,000 in additional damages for other tortious acts. The judge found that because the various causes of action overlapped, damages were best addressed as a lump sum and that the plaintiff was entitled to aggravated [page264] damages. Despite the lack of evidence of actual physical or psychological harm, the plaintiff was awarded the sum of $20,000.

[80] MacKay v. Buelow, [1995] O.J. No. 867, 24 C.C.L.T. (2d) 184 (Gen. Div.) involved a family law dispute in which the defendant had harassed his ex-wife over a period of four months. He continuously called her, stalked her on several occasions, threatened to kill her and threatened to kidnap their child and take her to another country. The trial judge found that the plaintiff was entitled to a remedy for the [at para. 17] "calculated, devilishly creative and entirely reprehensible conduct by the defendant" and awarded $25,000 general damages, $15,000 aggravated damages, $15,000 punitive damages, together with special damages and a significant award for the future medical care she would require.
(c) Damages under provincial legislation

[81] The four provincial privacy acts do not require proof of damage as an element of the cause of action. The Manitoba Privacy Act, however, is the only statute that provides specific guidance with regard to the determination of damages:
Considerations in awarding damages

4(2) In awarding damages in an action for a violation of privacy of a person, the court shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case including

(a) the nature, incidence and occasion of the act, conduct or publication constituting the violation of privacy of that person;

(b) the effect of the violation of privacy on the health, welfare, social, business or financial position of that person or his family;

(c) any relationship, whether domestic or otherwise, between the parties to the action;

(d) any distress, annoyance or embarrassment suffered by that person or his family arising from the violation of privacy; and

(e) the conduct of that person and the defendant, both before and after the commission of the violation of privacy, including any apology or offer of amends made by the defendant.
[82] The other provincial statutes leave this determination to judicial discretion. The case law, however, demonstrates that courts frequently consider the same factors enumerated in the Manitoba Act. Appendix B contains a summary of these cases, mostly from British Columbia.

[83] Absent proof of actual pecuniary loss, the awards are, for the most part, modest. For example, in Heckert v. 5470 Investments Ltd., [2008] B.C.J. No. 1854, 2008 BCSC 1298, 299 D.L.R. (4th) 689, [page265] the judge noted [at para. 148] that the only evidence regarding damages were "Ms. Heckert's general statements that she felt stressed and needed to see her chiropractor and acupuncturist for additional visits". The judge still found that Ms. Heckert's landlord had invaded her privacy by installing close imaging cameras in the hallway outside of her door, but that the lack of medical evidence meant that the award could be not more than nominal damages of $3,500.

[84] Egregious conduct, however, has attracted awards of aggravated damages. In Watts v. Klaemt, [2007] B.C.J. No. 980, 2007 BCSC 662, 71 B.C.L.R. (4th) 362, the plaintiff was terminated from her job when her next door neighbour, the defendant, recorded her phone calls and after discovering she was perpetrating fraud against her company, reported this to her employer. The plaintiff claimed general damages for emotional pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and diminution of her reputation as well as punitive or exemplary damages for the invasion of privacy. In assessing the quantum of damages, the judge considered the degree to which the plaintiff's life was destroyed following the invasion of privacy -- notably the termination of her employment, the need to seek psychological care for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder -- and weighed this against the plaintiff's own misconduct. The judge awarded [at para. 68] $30,000, including aggravated damages for the "substantial degree of suffering experienced by the plaintiff".

[85] The benchmark case for exemplary or punitive damages for an invasion of privacy under the British Columbia regime is Malcolm v. Fleming, [2000] B.C.J. No. 2400, 2000 CarswellBC 1316 (S.C.). The defendant, the plaintiff's landlord, installed a video camera in the plaintiff's apartment and recorded her in various stages of undress in her bathroom and bedroom. The judge awarded punitive damages of $35,000 in addition to $15,000 in general damages. In determining the figure for punitive damages the judge considered such factors as the intimate location of the invasion, the relationship between the parties as landlord and tenant as having a high expectation of privacy, the substantial premeditation and planning, the additional humiliation of discovery prior to trial, the fact that a permanent record of the violation existed creating the potential for future embarrassment and the fact that there was no other means of punishment as there was no criminal act perpetrated.

[86] Other cases have awarded punitive damages in consideration of society's abhorrence of the defendant's actions, a lack of remorse on the part of the defendant and the desire to promote specific deterrence: see [page266] Watts v. Klaemt; Lee v. Jacobson; Weber v. Jacobson, 1992 CanLII 8556 (BC SC), [1992] B.C.J. No. 132, 87 D.L.R. (4th) 401 (S.C.), revd 1994 CanLII 1419 (BC CA), [1994] B.C.J. No. 2459, 120 D.L.R. (4th) 155 (C.A.). In Hollinsworth v. BCTV, a division of Westcom TV Group Ltd., [1996] B.C.J. No. 2638, 34 C.C.L.T. (2d) 95 (S.C.), affd [1998] B.C.J. No. 241, 1998 B.C.C.A. 304 (C.A.), for example, the court assessed the plaintiff's damages for both breach of confidentiality and for the invasion of privacy at $15,000. The court there noted, at para. 27 (S.C.), that these damages were higher than usual for breaches of the Privacy Act in consideration of the "reprehensible conduct" of the defendant. In Hollinsworth, the defendant lied to a reporter, saying that he had consent to use a videotape of the plaintiff undergoing surgery to treat baldness. The video was then aired during a news broadcast.

(d) Determining the quantum of damages

[87] In my view, damages for intrusion upon seclusion in cases where the plaintiff has suffered no pecuniary loss should be modest but sufficient to mark the wrong that has been done. I would fix the range at up to $20,000. The factors identified in the Manitoba Privacy Act, which, for convenience, I summarize again here, have also emerged from the decided cases and provide a useful guide to assist in determining where in the range the case falls: (1) the nature, incidence and occasion of the defendant's wrongful act; (2) the effect of the wrong on the plaintiff's health, welfare, social, business or financial position; (3) any relationship, whether domestic or otherwise, between the parties; (4) any distress, annoyance or embarrassment suffered by the plaintiff arising from the wrong; and (5) the conduct of the parties, both before and after the wrong, including any apology or offer of amends made by the defendant.

[88] I would neither exclude nor encourage awards of aggravated and punitive damages. I would not exclude such awards as there are bound to be exceptional cases calling for exceptional remedies. However, I would not encourage such awards as, in my view, predictability and consistency are paramount values in an area where symbolic or moral damages are awarded and absent truly exceptional circumstances, plaintiffs should be held to the range I have identified. [page267]


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Last modified: 03-01-23
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