BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, SULLIVAN AND ANDERSON
ANDERSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
This is an appeal from the order of the Circuit Court of Harrison County directing a verdict for the defendant in a civil suit. Finding the trial judge in error, we reverse.
The National Motorist Association is a Mississippi corporation owned and operated by the family of N. D. Burns of Gulfport. It offers motorists various emergency road services and reimbursement of certain costs in the manner of other similar automobile associations. The association has an accident coverage program which provides that members will receive $60 per day for every day of hospitalization up to 300 days.
In November 1977, James Candebat, a tire salesman, bought a membership in the National Motorist Association (NMA) from its salesman, defendant N.J. Flanagan.
On December 12, 1977, Candebat and his family were involved in a collision in Gulfport. A drunk driver with no insurance drove his car head-on into the Candebats' pickup truck. Candebat's wife, Irene, suffered numerous serious injuries in this crash. She was in a coma for almost a month and was hospitalized for more than three months. During this crisis Mr. Candebat took leave of absence from his job in order to attend his wife and look after their children. During this period Candebat frequently encountered Flanagan at the hospital and engaged him in conversation. During one of these conversations, Candebat confided that he was uncertain as to whether he would retain his present job. Flanagan intimated that there might be a position at NMA for Candebat; Candebat expressed some interest in the possibility.
The association duly paid the Candebats their hospitalization allowance. Beginning in late February or early March, James Candebat began receiving inquiries from friends and even strangers about his wife's accident and the benefits they had received from the association. In the course of these various discussions, Candebat received information that the NMA's salesmen were using a sales kit which contained information about his wife's accident and copies of the checks mailed to them. In June or July of 1978,
Candebat called the association's office to complain about the use of this information. Nonetheless, the unwelcome attention of outsiders persisted, together with rumors that the use of this information was continuing. Candebat then retained a lawyer who wrote a letter to the association dated October 27, 1978, asking that the association desist from this practice. The association did not reply, but issued a sales bulletin ordering its sales force to stop using the Candebat material in their promotions. Rumors continued and on December 11, 1978, the Candebats' lawyer mailed the association another letter of complaint. This time the association, by its president, A. D. Burns, answered and assured Candebat that the practice had been discontinued. Flanagan came to Candebat's work place and apologized personally, pledging that the practice had been halted. However, there was testimony that as late as February 1979 the Candebat materials were still being used, even by Flanagan himself.
On December 4, 1979, the Candebats filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Harrison County charging the NMA, along with its president, Burns, and Flanagan, with invasion of their privacy through the appropriation of their names for commercial purposes without their consent. The complaint sought $50,000 in actual damages and $50,000 against each defendant in punitive damages.
The cause was heard on August 2, 1982. At trial, the Candebats indicated their deep distress at knowing that the details of their personal tragedy had been divulged to strangers. Mrs. Candebat testified that she had grown so nervous that she feared to remain in her house alone.
At the close of the plaintiffs' case-in-chief, the trial judge directed a verdict for the defendant, holding that there had been no showing of damage to the Candebats owing to the association's conduct. Shortly thereafter, the Candebats perfected this appeal.
The trial judge granted the motion for directed verdict after stating his opinion that in order to recover for an invasion of privacy, one must specify his damages, and for punitive damages to be available, there must be" malice, fraud, insult, [or] wanton and reckless disregard of plaintiff's rights ". The Candebats argue on appeal that he misunderstood the very nature of the tort of invasion of privacy.
Although actions for the invasion of privacy have been rare in Mississippi, the tort has received almost universal recognition in the United States. Every state except Rhode Island provides either statutory or common law relief for it. Prosser & Keeton, The Law of Torts, 118 (5th Ed. 1984). Mississippi gave implicit recognition to the tort in 1951. Martin v. Dorton, 210 Miss. 668, 672-73, 50 So. 2d 391, 393 (Miss. 1951). The recognition was made explicit in Deaton v. Delta Democrat Publishing Co., 326 So. 2d 471, 473 (Miss. 1976). In this century, the doctrines surrounding the tort and the right to privacy have undergone rapid and extensive development. In Re Brown, 478 So.2d 1033, 1039-1040 (Miss. 1985). As Prosser remarks," What has emerged is no simple matter. As it has appeared in the cases thus far decided, it is not one tort, but a complex of four. ...