Insureon Blog

Court Ruling Means You Could Be Liable for Butt Dials

25. August 2015 08:02

phone in pocket

We all know butt dials can be embarrassing. But lawsuit worthy? Now that's news.

According to The Washington Post, James Huff, chairman on the Kenton County Kentucky Airport Board, and his vice chairman Larry Savage were deciding where to eat, and Huff called an assistant Carol Spaw to make reservations. Huff slid the phone into his pocket and continued to shoot the breeze with Savage. Unbeknownst to either of the men, Huff accidentally dialed Spaw again, and she quickly realized the call was a butt dial, the report notes.

But once she heard talk of unlawfully firing the airport's CEO – her boss – she took notes, recorded the entire 91-minute conversation, and reported it. The call spurred a lawsuit, and the US Court of Appeals had to decide whether a recorded butt dial is admissible.

The Washington Post states the court sided with Spaw because…

The court's interpretation of what constitutes as a reasonable expectation of privacy is an important one in the age of hyper digital connectedness. Even if you inadvertently place a call with your derrière, the call can be recorded, and what you say can be lawsuit fodder.

Calling All Risks

Thanks to Huff's unfortunate experience, we now know that pocket-dial calls aren't protected conversations. That means an overhead call may be used to support allegations of:

Moral of the story: when you're having a conversation with a friend, it's natural to speak more openly and let your unfiltered opinions loose. In the context of your business, some of those opinions can be very harmful, especially if you accidentally say something offensive about an employee or a competitor.

If Huff's experience teaches us anything, it's that being aware is a good way to manage these risks. Overhead conversations in a crowded restaurant or on a misplaced phone call may be recorded and used to support a lawsuit.

Keep Your Calls Off Record

First and foremost, if you're worried about butt dials, for Pete's sake, lock your phones. If Huff had locked his phone, the entire debacle may have been avoided from the start.

Secondly, understand your limits. You can be liable for firing someone just because they are a woman or over the age of 40. You can also be liable for publicly slamming a competitor for "ripping people off" if that is a subjective statement. As a business owner, you have plenty of discretionary power, but knowing how you can be held accountable for your decisions or your statements can help you draw boundaries.

If you make a mistake, the following policies may help:

Lastly, work with an IT consultant (who has adequate technology E&O Insurance!). They can help you understand the other exposures technology brings to a business.

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