Keep it locked or be ready for some serious legal implications
We’ve all done it—or at least experienced it. You put your cell phone in your pocket or your purse and next thing you know; you’re making a call that you did not intend to. And while 9 times out of 10, a butt-dial is worth a giggle and written off as no biggie, it only takes one inadvertent call to cost you big. Because when you make a call without realizing it, everything you say, even if you’re not talking to the receiver of the call, can and will be held against you. Check out what a Federal Court Judge ruled in a recent case:
Huff v Spaw
James Huff, the former chairman of the board of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport had no idea he had called Carol Spaw, the assistant to the board’s CEO Candace McGraw. So for more than an hour and a half, he had what he thought was a private conversation with another board member about the possibility of replacing McGraw. But in reality, he had mistakenly dialed Spaw, and after attempting to alert him that she was on the line, instead of hanging up, she listened in, took notes and even recorded parts of the conversation.
Later, when the conversation came to light, Huff sued Spaw, alleging that she violated a privacy law that makes it illegal to intercept electronic or oral communication. What do you suppose happened next?
Unfortunately for Huff, and anyone else looking for privacy law protection from an erroneous phone call, the court found that Spaw was not guilty of violating any federal laws and that the ultimate responsibility for what happened fell on Huff.
The judge said: Privacy cannot be expected
Was Huff responsible or did Spaw invade his privacy by listening to and recording the call? Some people may say that because he did not mean to make the call, Huff should not be held liable. But according to courts, Spaw was in the clear, not just once, but a second time when Huff appealed. For everyone who owns a cell phone—and that’s pretty much everyone, this case sets a precedent that should not be ignored.
In the course of the proceedings, the Judge ruled that people are aware of the dangers of butt-dialing and can and should take steps to prevent it from happening. He also compared accidentally dialing someone to leaving your windows uncovered. The “Plain View” doctrine states that if a homeowner doesn’t cover a window with curtains, he cannot expect privacy from a viewer looking into the window.
Keep it locked
When it comes to making inadvertent calls on cellphones, it’s clear that the burden of protection lies with owner of the cellphone. And as the judge ruled in this case, it is up to each individual to ensure that their phone keypad is locked so they do not run into the same trouble that Huff did. There are several ways to protect yourself including putting a password on your phone or getting a call confirmation app that requires you to confirm the call with a second tap (it won’t dial after just one tap).
Make sure you’re insured
Another important consideration is having the appropriate insurance to cover you in the event that you are sued by a third party for liable, slander, negligence or any other issue. Although it cannot undo any damage that has been done as a result of a butt-dial, it can cover your expenses and court fees if you are found responsible.
This case is just one of many instances that people are faced with as technology becomes more and more impactful in business and in life. Make sure you are prepared by keeping your cellphone locked when you’re not using it and talk to us about getting the proper insurance coverage to protect you and your business.