Caught on Camera: How Video Surveillance Helps Smart Business Owners Mitigate Liability

By now the world has heard of Emelia Holden, the Vinnie Van Go-Go’s waitress that dropped a customer for inappropriately touching as he passed by her in the restaurant. The video footage more than shows how Ms. Holden is standing up for herself in this situation. This guy was arrested, Vinnie’s is still selling pizza, and now Savannah waitresses are getting new series on Netflix “Breaking Bad 2.” (The last one is not true, but it should be).

Being in the security industry, I thought a lot about this incident afterwards and how it could have not gone as well as it did. I wondered, what if the camera had stopped working, had a bad picture, or was obstructed. Where would that leave Vinnie Van Go-Go’s? Could that customer bring legal action against the restaurant? Could that incident have left Vinnie’s in a lawsuit costing this local, small business owner thousands?

While driving I often listen to the radio. You just can’t beat BoB 106.9! Lately, I continue to hear a commercial for a local law firm (that I will not mention), and the premise of the commercial is a businesses liability for injury to customers and employees. Some of the taglines include, “Did the business owner provide enough lighting outside of their establishment?”, “Was monitoring used for safety and protection?”, and lastly (and perhaps more importantly) “This business could be liable…” Wait, did I hear that correctly? The business is liable? Well, according to Georgia Law, it is.
2010 Georgia Code Title 51 Chapter 3 Article 1  “Duty of owner or occupier of land to invitee”: Where an owner of occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.

After reading this Georgia law, certain parts stand out and should not be overlooked. “Implied invitation, induces, or leads” is wide open to interpretation. For example,  if a McDonalds sign makes me think of a Big Mac, and as I walk there I break my leg after attempting to jump the bushes into the McDonald’s parking lot…I have now been induced and led by that McDonald’s sign, and have broken my leg on their property. “Injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care” is also quite open to interpretation. Were the bushes too high at McDonalds? Was the ground before the bushes slippery, making my journey there all the more dangerous? As you can see, this example, though absurd, leaves this law open for interpretation. An example of these cost to businesses (taken from Bird Law Group in Atlanta):

Premises Liability Cases

  • $2,400,000 - PLAINTIFF's VERDICT Blair v. Richard O'Brien Concrete Pumping

  • $1,000,000 - Settlement involving a slip and fall outside a restaurant.

  • $250,000 - PLAINTIFF's VERDICT Chandler v. The Kroger Co. - Premises Liability

  • $ 90,000 - Settlement involving a slip and fall inside a grocery store.

  • $ 40,000 - Settlement involving a slip and fall inside a large discount store.

What could have potentially changed the outcome of many of the above cases? Clear, unobstructed camera views. From my previous example, if the McDonalds had a video that I was acting crazy with some friends or acting goofy as I tried to reach that Big Mac, and it was my negligence that led to my accident; they may not end up on the above settlement list.

So what can business owners do? First and foremost, make sure your business is a safe place to do business (this should be obvious). Next, if you cannot see it, then you have the potential for problems. Good lighting and cameras are necessary for businesses. Raytec has awesome lighting options for exteriors, and paired with Axis or Digital Watchdog cameras (depending on your budget); you can always have “good eyes” on your business.

And last but not least, make sure at least once a year someone is maintaining your cameras. With today’s IP camera solutions, it is not uncommon for cameras and network video recorders to need updates (just like the apps on your phone). Updates are crucial, and add in hurricanes, thunderstorms, lawn care personnel, and the numerous other ways a camera’s view can be messy or obstructed; it’s as important to have those cameras adjusted, cleaned, and focused yearly as well. If your security camera company is not offering a maintenance plan with their camera system, you may want to shop for a different company; and if your security camera company didn’t offer you a maintenance plan, then find a company that will service your camera system. (plug time: @scdatacom)

    I love when people, like Ms. Holden, stand up for themselves; I think we all do. But it is also important as a business owner to protect yourself as well. You will be saving yourself, your business, and the jobs for the Emilia Holden’s of the world. Great job Vinnie Van Go-Go’s in protecting your business!

Written by: Jon Hall, scDataCom