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A Clear View of Liability

05/15/2012 -

Two female shoppers chatted as they walked toward their car in the parking lot of a big-box chain store. Suddenly, they heard rushed footsteps and a disheveled young man grabbed one of the women. Without warning, he pulled a knife and plunged it twice into her neck. She fell to the ground, bleeding profusely, and the assailant ran away across the parking lot.

In the litigation of the case, one factor weighed heavily against the property owner: although surveillance cameras were mounted along the roof of the building to record activity in the parking lot, they were not monitored in real time. That’s a critical but common error—one of nine major deficiencies that lead to increased liability when persons are harmed on a company’s property.

This case is just one example of how, whenever a breakdown of security occurs and someone is harmed because of it, businesses can expect a lawsuit. Without fail, the role of the surveillance system and department will be thoroughly examined and assessed in the discovery phase and used against the defendant if it can be. The author has been an expert witness—on both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s side—at trials where surveillance systems and their operation have been used in evidence to either greatly lessen or increase the liability of the business or employer. When correctly engineered and properly operated in tandem with adequate security responders, surveillance systems function admirably to protect people and assets, but when they do not, they can lead to large judgments against the companies who own them.

Hierarchy of Deficiencies

In lawsuits, liability arises from equipment when there are flaws in design, placement, installation, or functionality. For example, if cameras are placed in low-light situations and unable to capture images because of insufficient luminosity, if cameras placed where backlighting is extreme cannot compensate, or if systems with excessive interference suffer significantly reduced image quality, liability may result. Operational faults can occur because of poor management decisions, inept administrative applications, training malfunctions, and operator errors.

A scale of operational errors or “faults” causing potential liability exposures arising from deficient or negligent surveillance operations is used as a metric to assist litigants. In ascending order from least to most serious, they are as follows:

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