Cameras and Restaurant Liability Claims: Pros and Cons of Video Surveillance

Video cameras in restaurants can be an electronic witness for courts, cops, and insurance companies. Picture these common scenarios:

  • An employee reports being injured in a fall in the kitchen, then files a workers’ compensation claim. A camera can confirm the claim’s validity and reveal lapses in safety procedures.
  • An armed robbery at a drive-through restaurant leaves the cash till dry. Video footage can help the police identify the culprit and help the restaurant’s insurance company determine if the robbery is a covered loss.
  • Food inventory runs out sooner than expected. Video can help pinpoint whether employee theft is the cause and make sure innocent workers aren’t wrongfully accused.
  • A food-borne illness sickens dozens of restaurant patrons. A video feed in the food-prep area can show how workers handled food on the day of the incident.

Because video surveillance can run 24/7 and keep watch when nobody else is looking, it can be a huge boon to restaurants and the people who frequent them. But restaurant owners need to understand that cameras are not a cure-all. They just happen to do one thing really well: Preserve photographic evidence.

How video surveillance helps restaurants

Like any business that deals with large numbers of people — and all the potential liabilities they represent — a restaurant must be managed with an eye toward risk reduction. Life is too random to remove every threat, but the more you do to minimize the more common ones, the lower the likelihood of your workers, customers, and vendors suffering an injury or worse.

Risk management preserves the well-being of the people who matter most to you, while helping you make sure you’re prepared when liabilities arise. Because video cameras watch people, they can help settle liability claims arising from:

  • Crime: Armed robberies, arson, and thefts by employees
  • Accidents: Slips, falls, and workers’ compensation claims
  • Serving liquor: Fights, violence, and customer car accidents
  • Preparing food: Allergies, food poisoning, and foodborne pathogens

All these kinds of incidents require evidence to establish causality and determine who is responsible for monetary damages. Furthermore, people who know they’re on video have an incentive to follow safety procedures and avoid criminal prosecution.

Video surveillance can provide key evidence of liability — except when it can’t. It’s important to acknowledge this reality when you embrace video technology for restaurant security.

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Limits of video surveillance in restaurants

For all their advantages, video cameras have fundamental legal and practical limits:

  • Legal. Your workers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in some areas of your restaurant. So, forget about video feeds in restrooms, shower areas, locker rooms, and similar places. “When employers use video cameras to monitor employees, they must have a legitimate business reason,” the website says. “State privacy laws may determine the extent at which video monitoring is considered legitimate and therefore lawful (check with your state labor agency for more details).” It’s important to consult with local legal experts about employee privacy when you set up video feeds.
  • Practical. Cameras are not free, and video evidence must be managed. It may not be practical to place a camera in all the places where your restaurant might be exposed to potential liability. You can take on the purchase and management of your video system yourself, or hire experts to do it. Either way, you have to weigh the cost of video coverage against the benefit it supplies to your restaurant.

And don’t forget that cameras can hold everybody accountable — and that includes managers and owners. Implementing and enforcing strong safety policies and enforcing them is a better idea than installing cameras and hoping they keep everybody honest.

Still, it does no good to dwell on the fact that cameras are not a magic bullet. The strengths can far outweigh the weaknesses, provided your video surveillance system is implemented properly.

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Tips for video camera placement in restaurants

Strategically placed video cameras that capture key locations in a restaurant can make all the difference when liabilities crop up.

Hoosier Security, a video-surveillance provider in Indianapolis, advises restaurants to install cameras monitoring these locations:

  • All entrances: Make sure video tracks everybody who enters and leaves.
  • Kitchen: Video can monitor food-prep operations for safety and security. This is key if a foodborne pathogen sickens people.
  • Dining room/bar: In addition to monitoring wait staff and bartenders for quality of service, you can watch for people leaving without paying.
  • Cash registers: Cameras record crimes and help employees resist temptation.
  • Walkways and parking: You might not be able to get full coverage in a large parking lot, but cameras should cover the approaches to the entrances.

Advances in digital technology have enabled the emergence of “video surveillance as a service,” or VSaaS. Providers of this service often do all the installation, monitoring, and management of video systems, relieving their clients of all these responsibilities. VSaaS could be a viable option, depending on your restaurant’s needs and resources.

Cameras are just one component of restaurant risk management

Whether you’re dealing with threats of crime, accidents, negligence, or natural disasters, it’s advisable to acquire liability insurance written specifically for the requirements of the restaurant industry. This is precisely the kind of coverage McGowan Program Administrators coordinates through our Umbrella and Package policies for restaurants.

Video evidence can provide crucial photographic evidence that accelerates the process of determining culpability in restaurant claims. That can help hold down insurance costs and provide the clarity you need to recover from damaging incidents and manage your business.

Read more of our posts on restaurant insurance issues.

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