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The Legal Side: Liability for Installed Surveillance Cameras
By Ken Kirschenbaum
QUESTION: One of our clients is reluctant to install cameras because they believe it increases liability.
Our experience is a camera system decreases liability since the owner is taking steps to provide a secure facility. But if the system is not monitored live does this give the occupant a false sense of security? Have you ever heard where an owner is liable for cameras that are not monitored live or liable for systems that do not have complete coverage of parking areas? And does an owner legally have to post signs stating area has surveillance cameras and/or is being recorded?
MY ANSWER: The issue of camera installation continues to plague property owners and security dealers because there is so little precedent to rely upon. There are, however, some principals of law which can be applied. One is that property owners do owe their tenants and others lawfully on the property some degree of reasonable protection.
The level of duty has many variables. A landlord of a residential property has a duty to provide reasonable security when the property is known to be in a high crime area and that tenants are likely to be at risk. Also, there are laws that affect the landlord's duty to provide some level of protection, such as front door locks and intercom systems.
Of course fire protection/detection is another level of security and safety which is generally required. Video surveillance, however, is rarely required by law. One that does come to mind is ATM facilities in New York City, which I believe must have CCTV coverage.
But property owners are not required to install and supervise CCTV. More often than not CCTV is installed by property owners as a measure to reduce property damage or to record the damage for possible police investigation after the fact. Some property complexes do have CCTV with on-site guard monitoring and certainly the presence of CCTV does raise the question of liability. One who assumes a duty is then required to perform that duty in a reasonable manner.
Thus, creating a sense of security by installing cameras or taking other security measures designed to instill a sense of safety will create a duty to provide that reasonable measure of protection. Dummy cameras would be about as effective as dummy guards [I am talking about the inanimate stuffed ones].
Property owners would be wise to make it clear what cameras or other security is designed to do or detect. Signs just as conspicuous as the cameras would be a good start. A notice to commercial tenants that cameras have been installed but are not supervised and are for the owners property protection would be a good idea.
In my office complex, for example, I see that the owner has installed cameras in the lobby of the buildings and outside the buildings viewing the parking lots. The cameras are visible, but the office tenants have never been notified why the cameras were installed or whether they are manned.
This property management company could certainly avoid some issue, at least with the tenants, if it sent around a notice regarding the limitations of the cameras. Another example that comes to mind is a landlord who installs cameras in a laundry room in a residential building. Especially if the landlord has a financial interest in the use of the washing machines, which they usually do, advising tenants of the true use and limitations of the cameras would be important if there were an incident.
The public's perception of CCTV coverage -- or for that matter guard coverage -- is probably not accurate with reality. Rarely is CCTV manned and more often than not security guards are instructed not to get involved in an incident other than to communicate with the police to report an incident. This is not to suggest that there are not buildings where CCTV is monitored live and where guards are armed and prepared to intervene.
A reasonable person on the premises should be able to figure out what kind of security exists on the premises, and an owner creating a false sense of security should expect to be held responsible, not necessarily for the entire injury or loss, but contributing to it by the injured party not taking other security measures because of the false sense of security.
About the author: Ken Kirschenbaum, Esq., is a New York-licensed lawyer practicing with Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC, a Long Island legal firm with a rich history of assisting clients in security and alarm related matters. Ken can be contacted via email at email@example.com. His website, www.kirschenbaumesq.com, features a great supply of legal information and court rulings relevant to the security industry. You can also sign up for Ken's discussion list from his homepage.