“Liability for a camera sign”

by Prince Of Petworth March 30, 2017 at 1:15 pm 30 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Ted Eytan

“I live in a condo building and recently some neighbors have had windows shattered by kids throwing rocks (their windows are on the alley). It was suggested that they just put up a sign that the alley that there is a camera until one is installed, but the management company said we could be held liable if there is a problem in the alley and no camera is actually there to film it (like someone being beat up.) That doesn’t seem correct to me – I am curious if anyone else has heard of this or experienced this issue in the past. Thanks!”

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  • GBinCH

    Did you management company then suggest that you get real cameras and pay a monthly storage fee for data, all of which they could provide?
    On another note, my building just took advantage of MPDs camera rebate program and the total cost in the end was really minimal. I really like the idea of building a camera network that MPD can leverage to identifies criminals/persons of interest that are committing crimes in a particular neighborhood.

    • Could you let me know what company your building used to install the cameras. I’m president of my building’s condo association and am having trouble finding a reasonably-priced security company.

  • dat

    That’s a load of crap. What would you be liable for?

  • Rich

    A lot of cameras in DC on private property probably don’t work (including some that are part of a generally working system). A lot of video is pretty useless (just look at what get’s posted here). Kids don’t know that (uselessness and non-functioning cameras), but the deterrent would be more convincing with an actual camera–it doesn’t take much to notice if one isn’t there.

    My building has periodic, often, pointless discussions about cameras but liability has not come up. The initial outlay for cameras is a few thousand dollars–a single camera will be in the hundreds, including installation. How you monitor/keep content varies but is not a major expense–it can be done on a dedicated PC. The District does have a rebate program but you need to look at the specifics, as they don’t rebate everything.

  • Maire

    I have heard something similar. I don’t know all the legalities, but the way it was explained to me (also by a property manager) is that if someone is, say, assaulted and they think that the crime is being caught on film it could influence how they react. So instead of maybe fighting and risking more injury to themselves, they might chose another tactic thinking that all the evidence of the crime is being caught on camera.
    And then if they find out that the camera was fake, or didn’t exist, it would be problematic. Again, I don’t know how/if this would actually play out in court, but looked at that way it does seem somewhat deceptive.
    That said, cameras aren’t all that expensive and are a great investment for any building or property.

    • Ava16

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Can any lawyers out there weigh in?

    • Anon.

      No way.

    • Shannon

      Lawyer here: short answer, no. Installing a camera does not create a legal obligation to the community at large to operate it for their benefit. There’s no viable legal theory here that I can see.

    • JD

      Lawyer here: short answer, no. Installing a camera does not create a legal obligation to the community at large to operate it for their benefit. There’s no viable legal theory here that I can see.

      • Ava16

        But isn’t the issue the misrepresentation of whether a camera exists or not? The only case I can find that addresses this type of issue is this one: https://www.kirschenbaumesq.com/article/dummy-camera-case-exculpatory-clause-didnt-help-vermont-case
        Granted, this case involved two parties involved in a contract, so maybe that would be the main difference? If that’s the case, could a building owner be held liable by their tenant (i.e. “i assumed it was safe to walk the alley way of the building that I am renting. I signed the rental agreement because i assume the building and premises were safe”) but not by a person who walks into an alley way and just reads the sign?
        Just thinking things through…

        • JD

          Yes, the contract makes all the difference, that’s where the legal obligation arises. But there is no legal obligation to a random person who happens to walk within the range of your camera. In the tenant scenario, the tenant would have a better case, though damages might be difficult to prove.

      • Anon

        Another lawyer here. I tend to agree. But for the purposes of discussion, and ONLY for the purposes of discussion, I could see someone trying to push a novel theory. Again, this is a HUGE maybe. But it has been held in some cases that an incompetent attempt to rescue someone by someone not qualified can lead to liability when it keeps someone who can actually help from doing so. So an enterprising plaintiff’s lawyer could try to analogize that situation to a sign that advertises a camera that doesn’t exist in that it could keep a qualified savior away, or even deter someone else from installing one that works.
        Like I said, I think it’s a stretch but it’s really the only possible avenue to recovery that I see and property managers are notoriously skittish about liability.

        • Anon.

          No, this hypo wouldn’t fit under Good Samaritan law. Liability under that law is for when you gratuitously undertake to help a person, but instead negligently make a situation worse (and you are only liable for the extent you made the situation worse), including by deterring other would-be rescuers, if it can be shown they would more likely than not have successfully conducted a rescue.
          But in the hypo here, there is no “undertaking”; someone installing a camera is not undertaking to help a person in distress. (Gratuitously but negligently warning of a defect on your property might be a different scenario, btw.) Even pretending this could be an undertaking, I can think of no reasonable factual scenario where the existence of a camera would keep a would-be rescuer away (and even if one posited something crazy, foreseeability is necessary for proximate causation for the negligence component). Similarly, someone deciding not to install a camera based on your camera (itself also unforeseeable, particularly given your lack of duty to maintain a camera) wouldn’t even be the cause-in-fact of the injury because the existence of an actual camera vs. an imaginary one wouldn’t prevent the event.
          I’ve had some creative good sam cases, but this would be crazy even for even the very most “enterprising” lawyer.
          *Not legal advice.

  • LCinDC

    I’m surprised they care about outdoor security cameras. It is very common for indoors cameras to have signage or a notice out to residents that the cameras are not actively monitored/should not be relied upon for additional safety. This way nobody has a false sense that they are any safer than they were without the cameras…because people like to sue.

  • anon

    Liable for what? If someone in the alley was a victim, what right would they even have to access your camera data.

  • Anon NS

    That’s crazy. Half of the time, cameras don’t work or film is “accidentally” erased. (The later happened to a client of mine, who was assaulted in his building by the guest of another tenant – seeming the building didn’t want to be “in the middle” by creating tension with the other tenant.)
    That said, I think the kids who do this stuff know that also. So they are not going to be deterred – even by a real camera.

    • Michael Pierce

      +1. We all know that the only real deterrent for these kids would be getting the living crap beat out of them for committing such vandalism, but that’s certainly not a viable option. The criminal justice system in DC has already proven itself ineffective at deterring crime.

      • anon

        If you’ve ever had the crap beaten out of you for anything, you would know that your first statement is certainly not a true one.

        • Michael Pierce

          Then show them some love. Be my guest.

      • Anonymous

        Um, no. Look I’m not saying they don’t deserve a beating, I’m just saying that’s definitely not a proven way to ratchet *down* antisocial behavior.

        • Michael Pierce

          Seriously. After you crush both of their hands, they’ll be throwing rocks at your windows with their feet in no time :-D

          • Anonymous

            Oh, you meant to say “maim”, not “beat”. Yeah I’m not on board with that.

        • Ross

          I’m guessing it’s a generational thing, but I can remember getting my ass beat for doing something less stupid than this while growing up in the 80’s, and it certainly worked to deter me from ever doing it again.

          • Anonymous

            And I know folks, same time period, who did not respond at all well to being beaten. Yours is only one experience.

      • On Capital Heels

        Actually, the “only real deterrent” for these kids would be an excellent education, clean and affordable housing, gainfully employed parents who weren’t making a few bucks an hour for a full days’ work…you know, all the same stuff that it took for you and me to turn out just fine, too.

    • FridayGirl

      That sounds a lot like something that happened in my building last year unless this is a common occurrence. Heh….

  • Basic Torts

    This is crap. A homeowner does not owe any legal duty to a random pedestrian in a public alley. Owning/posting a real camera, a dummy camera, a broken camera, or a sign does not change this. The idea that a passerby could reasonably rely on your camera/sign for their protection is not supported by case law.

    A duty may arise under a different fact pattern. For example, if an apartment building claims to have interior security cameras (or locks, or alarms, etc.), a tenant could reasonably rely on those claims. Here, the building could be liable because the special relationship (landlord-tenant) gives rise to a duty to protect.

    • Ava16

      I posted above before reading this, but the landlord-tenant relationship makes sense. In that case, the building may still be avoiding being held liable by its own tenants.

  • Dwight

    When I lived in a condo in Maryland, we were told the same thing by our management company.

  • BicycleLvr

    DC police tell the Capitol Hill community to post signs that you have an alarm, even if you do not. That is because the average criminal when deciding between house a and house b picks the house without the sign. How is this different? Sounds like the management company does n want to research a camera installation because it is more work.


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