In another favorable decision for companies, the Maine Supreme Court ruled on September 21, 2010 that consumers affected by a data breach could not claim damages from the company unless they suffered uncompensated financial losses or some other tangible injury.
The Maine Supreme Court addressed the following:
In the absence of physical harm or economic loss or identity
theft, do time and effort alone, spent in a reasonable effort to
avoid or remediate reasonably foreseeable harm, constitute a
cognizable injury for which damages may be recovered under
Maine law of negligence and/or implied contract?
The Court ruled they do not. Additionally, the Court went on to state that "[t]he tort of negligence does not compensate individuals for the typical annoyances or inconveniences that are a part of everyday life….An individual’s time alone, is not legally protected from the negligence of others."
The underlying suits were filed following a breach, and fraudulent use, which resulted when card holder data of nearly 4.2 million people was stolen. The lawsuits alleged the company was negligent in protecting card holder data and failed to notify of the breach in a timely fashion. The above holding was issued when the District Court Judge who heard the underlying case, agreed to let the state Supreme Court decide whether the plaintiffs could sue the company for the time and effort put into avoiding or mitigating harm from fraudulent charges on their cards.
Two other cases are similarly instructive. In 2003 the Minnesota Supreme Court found that an invasion of privacy cause of action requires that the dissemination resulted in “publicity” of private facts. Because the disclosure was internal to other employees, and not to the public at large, the Court held the dissemination was insufficient publicity to support an invasion of privacy claim against the employer. Further, in Guin v. Brazos Higher Educ. Serv. Corp. Inc., 2006 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 4846(D. Minn. Feb. 2, 2006), the District Court dismissed plaintiff’s negligence claim holding that the threat of future harm not yet realized will not support a claim for negligence which requires a showing of an injury.
Companies and employers must be on notice of these decisions when faced with individual lawsuits following data breaches.