Security Video and Premises Liability Cases
Cameras and their footage can win (or lose) your case. How should you use them in 2020?
A customer looks over each shoulder, and then back down at a spill on the floor of your store's beverage aisle. She checks the slipperiness of the wet spot by sliding the ball of her right foot back and forth through the hazard. After a momentary pause, she throws her hands up in the air and herself on the ground in an Oscar-worthy performance of a fall. An employee comes to her aid, completes an incident report based on the customer's version of events, and the customer's first call on the way home is to an attorney she saw on a billboard. You get sued.
Since there are no witnesses to the carefully staged fall, and your employee recorded the only version available to her: the customer's version, you might be left with the unhelpful incident report as your only evidence. Unless you have surveillance footage.
Notice that I did not say "unless you have surveillance cameras". You probably do, especially in the beverage aisle. Whether you have footage or not by the time a lawsuit is filed is another story entirely. You have probably had cameras for 20 years, but your video retention policy is probably that old, too. Back when video tape and digital storage were cost-prohibitive, it made sense to have video that rolled-over every 7 or maybe 30 days. So you perhaps have a policy to preserve video when an incident report is taken. Hopefully your employees abide by it and you have the footage you need.
Modify the scenario a bit, though, and assume another customer came to the assistance of the Plaintiff and no incident report was taken. Maybe the lawsuit or a demand letter is your first notice of the purported accident and it comes two years later just before the personal injury statute of limitations runs. Employees working on the date of the incident may have left the company, nobody would have known to save the video, and you are left with no evidence with which to defend yourself.
Now imagine you have the video. Even before it is useful to impeach Plaintiff at her deposition, or play for the judge at a summary judgment hearing, or the jury at trial, the video can persuade an attorney who sends a demand letter not to file suit. At very least, it can drive down the cost of a nuisance settlement dramatically. As of today's date, you can buy an 8-terabyte external hard drive on Amazon for $144.99. At that price, you can afford to keep all of your video for at least two years. If it wins even one lawsuit, it is more than worth the investment.
It is 2020, and with apologies for the dad-joke, it is time to "get your vision checked", too. Jurors have high-resolution cameras on the phones in their pockets and expect high-quality footage to be presented to them. It is time to upgrade any cameras that are old enough to vote to 1080p full-HD cameras.
Drew D. Helms is an attorney focused on premises liability in Los Angeles. If you would like a consultation regarding your businesses video policies, or any other issue, reach out a firstname.lastname@example.org