Defending against a lawsuit

Dec. 13, 2011

It’s very costly for a retailer to defend themselves against a security related lawsuit, but if ignored the monetary awards and damage to the company’s reputation can be staggering.

Consider a case from a few years back. The victim was brutally stabbed in a parking garage of a mall. The killer was eventually convicted of murder and sentenced 25 years to life. There were a number of parties named in the ensuing lawsuit. One of which was the retailer (defendant) who hired an attorney to represent them who in-turn retained a Security Management Consultant to investigate, review and write an opinion about the case.

 Here are some of the plaintiff’s complaint and facts about the case:

  1.  The complaint charged that the retailer was negligent, careless and reckless in failing to maintain  their premises in a reasonable and safe condition.
  2. The retailer failed to take reasonable precautionary measures to provide adequate security, safety and or warnings including, but not limited to failing to provide a number of T.V. monitors for video surveillance, to position the T.V. monitors in a reasonable manner, to provide any or a number of sufficient number of foot patrols, and to provide alarms at the aforementioned premises.
  3. The retailer was negligent, careless and reckless in failing to heed prior incidents of threat and/or violence.
  4. The murder did not take place on the premises of the retailer.
  5. The store used loss prevention personnel, a CCTV system, theft deterrent tags, internal audits and documented employee theft awareness training to detect and combat internal and external theft.

As a result of the police investigation it was discovered the murderer had stolen a single steak knife from a blister pack containing four steak knives. The steak knives were on display in the housewares department on the second floor of the three-story department store. The murderer was able to open the blister pack and remove the knife from the store undetected. It is noted that the retail security industry may detect and apprehend one out of every 50 shoplifting thefts. This fact is well documented in retail security publications.

It was the plaintiff’s contention that the retailer should have placed some type of theft deterrent device on the package of steak knives. The fact is retailers who utilize theft deterrent devices tag merchandise according to value and/or rate of theft, not on the chance a thief will steal a random product.

The plaintiff contended there were not enough cameras deployed within the retailer’s premises. The fact is the retailer had well over 100 cameras covering all three floors, and in the housewares  department there were two pan-tilt-zoom cameras that had the ability to view and record the area where the steak knives were displayed. In addition, a review of the camera found over 10 video recorders and three banks of various size monitors along with ability to maneuver the 100+ cameras, all of which had pan-tilt-zoom capabilities.

The plaintiff contended that there were not enough security personnel on duty to detect and apprehend the thief. The fact is it was unknown on what day or timeframe the knife was stolen, but the retailer was able to provide time/attendance records for the loss prevention staff and the clerks assigned to the housewares department for the two-week period before the homicide.

The plaintiff contended there was not enough attention paid to the housewares department, in particular the area where kitchen knives are sold. Their thought was knives are a dangerous weapon and should have extra security protection from being stolen. The retailer was able to produce a three year history of shoplift apprehensions leading up to the time of the murder. In the three-year period there had only been a few apprehensions where houseware items had been recovered and steak knives were not one of the items. A nice feature of this report was the date, time and department, along with a description of the item, broke down every apprehension.

This is really an abbreviated version of this case and the amount of work performed by the Security Management Consultant, not to mention the attorney and is meant to give some incite as to the amount of time and effort that goes into a case like this. You can imagine the costs involved to the retailer just to defend themselves in a case where the Court eventually excused them from the lawsuit.


Curtis Baillie - Security Consulting Strategies, LLC


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