Publication of Private Facts in Washington

Washington recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. The law in Washington is likely similar to that described in the general page on publication of private facts, but few Washington cases deal directly with this legal claim. This page addresses those aspects of Washington law, to the extent it is known, that are different from the general description.

Elements of a Private Facts Claim

In Washington, the elements of a publication of private facts claim are: (1) public disclosure (2) of a matter concerning the private life of another (3) that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (4) that is not of legitimate concern to the public.

Washington law does not impose liability for publication of information that is of legitimate public concern or newsworthy. In one case, a Washington court indicated that the circumstances of the death of a young woman found naked on the side of the road were a matter of "immediate public concern" even though neither the woman nor her parents were public figures. See Moloney v. Tribune Publ'g Co., 613 P.2d 1179 (Wash. Ct. App. 1980). Washington courts probably would follow the courts of other states in determining what is a matter of legitimate public concern. See the general description for a sense of what others courts have said about this issue.

Relying on Public Records

In Washington, you generally cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information gathered from government records that are open to public inspection because such information is already exposed to the public eye. One case has refused to impose liability for publishing information contained in a police investigation report. See Moloney v. Tribune Publ'g Co., 613 P.2d 1179 (Wash. Ct. App. 1980).


No Washington cases address whether consent is a defense to a publication of private facts claim, but the general trend in all states is to recognize such a defense. Washington courts may recognize verbal or implied consent, but it is advisable to get it in writing whenever possible. If getting written consent is not practical, you should record verbal consent using an audio or video recording device. The age of majority in Washington is eighteen; if you interview or photograph someone under the age of eighteen, you should seek consent from the subject's parent(s) or guardian. See the general description for a more detailed discussion of release forms.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for a publication of private facts claim in Washington is not settled.


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