A Clear View of Liability

By D. Anthony Nichter, CPP

No monitoring. A system where there is no live surveillance, only recording video for later review if needed is the next step in the liability pyramid. While there has been much debate within the security profession regarding the wisdom of this approach, juries are not so conflicted. They are increasingly ruling against large businesses, such as some shopping malls, big retailers, parking garages, and educational campuses, when they fail to have live surveillance-system monitoring of criminally intensive environments.

Juries base their decisions on the fact that the average users of a location where the surveillance system is visible make a natural and reasonable assumption that a person is actually viewing the camera feed. This assumption is often reinforced by ambiguous signs such as “Cameras in use” or “This lot under surveillance.”

In one case that occurred at a Nev­ada men’s entertainment club, there were both bouncers and security personnel on duty to break up occasional fights. One even­ing, during one such altercation, a fight erupted in which a group of males attacked a single patron. The fight occurred out of the sight of any of the boun­cers or security personnel. The man sustained severe injuries.

During pretrial discovery, it was learned that the club had a fairly sophisticated camera surveillance system that extended throughout the facility but was not monitored. It was also learned that there was an on-site surveillance viewing room; it had once been staffed, but when the surveillance operator quit, he was never replaced. A review of the recorded footage clearly showed that, had the system been monitored, the operator would have seen the buildup to the fight and would have had sufficient time to dispatch security to break apart the arguing parties. The club ultimately settled the case out of court for a substantial amount.


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