Monday, March 10, 2014

Crazy Years.

One of the Bloom County strips I remember best from the days when the earth was young and freshly scrubbed and penguins roamed the front page of the Sunday comic section was the one where Steve Dallas laid out his rationale for suing the Nikolta camera company.

Fast forward thirty years from when that strip ran, to the dystopian future of 2014, when citizens of a Nu-Perfect America shop for cut-price goods manufactured by Chinese slave labor and drag them through the camera-monitored parking lots of a globe-spanning megacorp to put them in the trunks of their GPS-monitored hybrid cars.

While performing this activity in the parking lot of the megacorp's Avon, Indiana outpost, two women, along with a 3-year-old child, were abducted by a monster who proceeded to inflict upon them an afternoon night* of horror that reads like a crime novelist's fever dream.

In the wake of this, following the Steve Dallas Theory of Deep Pockets, the women are suing the megacorp that owns the parking lot that was the site of the initial abduction. I mean, there are cameras in the parking lot, right? What is all this constant monitoring by every entity, public and private, for if not to keep us all safe?

*11AM, 11PM... what difference does it make, really?


The Raving Prophet said...

Until the day they invent a camera that can climb down off a pole and lay a whuppin upon evildoers, people need to keep in mind that video cameras only serve to make the eventual police report easier to fill out. They won't do squat to deter actual crime.

The Jack said...

I used to live right around the corner of that place.


So... the expectation is that all of the megacorps telescreens are monitored live... and that they'll sent out a team of Runners the instant something is amiss?

If the police don't have a "duty to protect" I'm not sure the megacorp has one.

Anonymous said...

The American legal system. A drunk driver runs over somebody. The bartender goes to jail for serving the driver one too many. The company that manufactured the car gets sued. Meanwhile, the drunk driver pleads no contest, gets a suspended sentence, and doesn't even lose his driver's license. Or, a homicidal maniac goes on a shooting spree with a stolen AR-15 and kills a dozen victims. Colt gets sued, Obama calls for more anti-gun laws. And the killer plea bargains the charges down to discharging a firearm inside the city limits, and is back on the street before the cops can finish writing the arrest report.

Anonymous said...

Well somebody has to pay don't they? It's America!


Dan said...

According to the linked news story the abduction occurred at 11 p.m. That is a really late afternoon of horror.

TCinVA said...

So it's been established that *police* have no duty to offer individual protection, but this lawyer is going to try and argue that Wal-Mart has a duty to protect people in their parking lot from armed kidnappers?

This seems like settlement bait to me. The question is this: Will Wal-Mart

A. stand on principle and actually take this to court and win on the obvious merits of the case, inevitably opening them up to bad PR for being all big corporation-y on the victims of a brutal crime.

B. Pay them off now to avoid the bad PR and worry about the future implications of that action in the future?

Enquiring minds want to know!

Armed Texan said...

Neil Davis, who represents the two women, says “In terms of general duties of businesses in Indiana they have a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect their customers from foreseeable criminal acts.”

That's why Walmart supports gun owners legally carrying in their store and refuse to post criminal empowerment zone signs, jackass.

ChrisCM said...

Under very well established common law, Walmart probably does have a duty to protect customers in its parking lots. Customers are, in the parlance, invitees of Walmart ( to whom Walmart owes a duty to make the property safe, "which includes conducting a reasonable inspection of the premises to uncover hidden damages." (swiped straight from wiki). That usually means that Walmart has to, e.g., inspect its floors regularly to make sure that the slab hasn't cracked such that it could cause someone to trip.

It can also mean, however, that Walmart has a duty to make sure that its parking lot isn't a nest of muggers and abductors. If Walmart knows that evil-doers tend to frequent its parking lots waiting for unsuspecting victims, it has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent those evil-doers from committing their evil. The presence of cameras might show that Walmart took affirmative steps to inspect its property, but failed to act on the information it gained.

The duty on private business owners to ensure that their premises are safe for the people whom they invite on their property for the purposes of doing business are quite distinct from the absenec of a duty of the state to come to your assistance wherever you may be.

Kristophr said...

No legal system can be made to work with bad judges.

Even the Mandarin system, where the Judge is jury, prosecutor, defending attorney, and judge, works well when you have a competent and fair judge.

In an earlier time, these women's cases would be dismissed with prejudice, as well as giving the defendant permission to sue the plaintiffs' lawyers for frivolous litigation, as well as the defendants.

Paul said...

In earlier times, I don't think this happened much.

We need a class of entitled criminals for this to happen.

Wal-Mart will most likely settle this with money. Although they have been known to sue their own employees who had medical claims due to an accident off property that generated a settlement.

Beyond providing a safe environment I do not think Wal-mart has a duty. Otherwise the security would need to be armed to deal with such animals.

Course should I be attacked in such a location I am sure I could fine a legal beagle to take the case.

staghounds said...

I don't think this is frivolous at all, depending on an unknown fact.

Is the camera system monitored?

If so, I suspect the victims' ground is strongest not on failure to protect, but failure to render aid by at least reporting the crime to the police, who could reasonably be expected to look for the abduction vehicle and victims once they knew the crime had happened.

Knew is the issue. Is awareness of the contents of the images imputed to the owner? There may be no general duty of a stranger to render aid in Indiana, but I suspect that owners of business premises aren't able to claim that when a victim is rendered helpless and in imminent danger of death on its property.

Think of it this way- if one customer stabs another in the checkout line, is there no duty of care to the injured invitee?

Can the business owner just let his invitee bleed out while he watches?

I suspect that Indiana law says no. I'd suspect the same would hold if the customer had a heart attack r diabetic coma.

Boat Guy said...

Those cameras are to keep the regime safe from us - but you know that already

Goober said...

The lawyers know they lose if this goes to trial.

They also know it will never get there. It is much less expensive to Wal Mart to settle out of court and make this go away, rather than stand up to a victim of a horrible crime and win in court.

Why, it would be like they raped her all over again, amirite?

THis is why the hot coffee lady won against McDonalds. It is really bad PR to sic your lawyers on a sympathetic plaintiff.

Is it right?

No, it isn't. But it IS the way things are.

Mike_C said...

Geez, everyone loses here. As TC notes WalMart will look bad no matter what it does. The women and their families have already suffered. Accused (ahem, alleged) kidnapper, rapist, and home invader Parrish will be very unlikely to get what's coming to him (IMO) no matter what the trial results and sentence.

Despite my dislike for WalMart (though I like the midwestern Meijer's chain just fine, thanks) it doesn't seem right to hold them financially responsible. In terms of victim compensation (and talking about roads we really should not go down) what would the worth of Parrish and his accomplices (assuming all found guilty) be on the illicit organ market? We have probably 8 kidneys (barring the odd horseshoe kidney or 3rd kidney), 4 hearts, 8 lungs, 8 corneas, square meters of skin, .... Surely some wealthy Chinese or Saudis would slip some cash to the victims in exchange for spare parts? (Thinking hostile morbid thoughts right now, being delayed at BWI and typing with painful wrist in a brace -- damn black ice ....) 'Course that's assuming the perps are not riddled with HIV, hepatitis B/C or other such unpleasantness.

On the linked cartoon: "Nikolta." Maybe Brethed picked that portmanteau just for the sound, but it's interesting to note that Minolta no longer exists though it was something back in the day. Minolta got bought by Konica, then Konica left the camera business. Sony bought up what was left, including the Alpha lens mount and the crappy proprietary hotshoe. These days the remaining generic camera giant is "CaNikon" but we shall see how long that lasts with the photographic market shrinking.

Anonymous said...

Ugly crime by someone who needs to be locked up forever. But it is not Walmart's fault.

Walmart should fight this and not settle. They used to (still do?) have a policy of fighting every suit. Which makes sense as they are a huge corporation with lots of exposure and very deep pockets.

Worst case, If the complainant wins for some reason, it would be a template for going after gun free zones if you obey the rules and are harmed because of it.

Robert said...

On the sidebar of that article was this:

Lovely people there. How close to where this occured are you?

Anonymous said...

Well Staghounds is a Lawyer and I'm not, but it seems to me that

A. even if there are monitored cameras ( primarily for post facto loss prevention) and some inkling that bad things may be happening in your lot
B.And your minimum wage plus security guy watching 20-30 feeds noticed something ( and wasn't inthe bathroom, or following someone on another feed)
C. And that something rose from being "maybe sketchy" ( seriously Walmarts gonna call the cops every time something that's maybe perhaps sketchy happening in the parking?) to "WHOA, Nellie, he's *obviously* up to no good!"

Then I think you could craft an argument that Walmart failed to call the cops and render such assistance as they can, which is minimal.

Heck they may be minimally responsible under some assinine though process & doctrine.

But I'd suspect that if say you had a 100 incident like this in the US per year, 98 of them would like, from the POV of low-res surveillance from 100ft away, at night, to be pretty normal interactions with nothing to draw attention to them.

Tam is still right though, 11:30pm at night, you and the 3yo should be in bed sleeping soundly and presto! you'd never meet in the parking lot.

Chas Clifton said...

Really, I thought the use of street and parking lot cameras was just to gather evidence for use later, not to stop crime as it happens.

Also, the accused was "was convicted of other crimes in the late 90′s, including . . . Battery of body waste in Sullivan County."

Do I even want to know what is meant by "battery of body waste"?

Anonymous said...

When gecko45 is duct-taping a second trauma plate to the back of his vest, he occasionally takes his eyes off the video feed for a sec.

Library-Gryffon said...


"In Indiana, battery by body waste (placing blood, human waste, or another bodily fluid such as semen or saliva) on a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, firefighter, first responder, probation officer, or court or child services employee is a felony if the bodily fluid or waste is infected with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, AIDS, or tuberculosis. The defendant must have known of the infection or was reckless in failing to know of the infection.
(Ind. Code Ann. § 35-42-2-6.)"

Which would suggest that organ harvesting even if legal, would not be an option.

Why is it only a felony to try to infect gov't personnel, and not normal civilians? /like I don't already know the answer.

Derfel Cadarn said...

Tam, a very astute and frightening observation. What indeed are all the cameras for ?

Goober said...

Anonymous 401 beat me to it.I just had the thought of gecko45 and came here to oh-so-cleverly post some smart comment about him and that anonymous fink bested me.

Good thing you posted anonymously pal or YOU would need a second trauma plate... ;)

TCinVA said...

The fact that Wal-Mart has camera systems does not mean that:

- The cameras were aimed at the specific area where this crime took place at the moment it took place. Should Wal-Mart be legally liable for this?

- The cameras were being unfailingly monitored by Wal-Mart security personnel at the exact moment this crime took place. Should Wal-Mart be legally liable for this?

- That the video footage has sufficient clarity to show exactly what was taking place to the point where a reasonable person would see imminent threat to life in the footage. Should Wal-Mart be legally liable for this?

Wal-Mart has cameras for one reason: Loss prevention. If you've never worked with these systems or seen them in operation then you probably have absolutely no idea how they are set up or being used at any point in time.

Wal-Mart's loss prevention systems are typically fairly sophisticated and have pan/tilt/zoom capability at least inside the store, which can be occupied at any moment looking at somebody that security personnel may suspect of shoplifting.

External cameras may have PTZ capability, and then again may not depending on the location. Even then, they do not have perfect unobstructed vision of a damn parking lot, and some cameras lack resolution sufficient to see exactly what's happening in areas of the parking lot.

I brought up the police because the USSC ruled that it would be unreasonable for any individual to expect that a municipal police department would act as a personal security detail for that individual. Similarly it would be unreasonable for patrons of a public retail store to expect that store to act as body guard or watchman against the possibility that a bad guy shows up.

There's no case against Wal-Mart here.

Anonymous said...

I could definitely see a law suit against legislators if something like that happened where law-breakers are granted a government enforced monopoly on the carrying of loaded guns.

The idea that someone coming onto your property and assaulting one of your guests is your fault? Insane.

Hey I know; maybe if they had a "assault and abduction free zone" sign at the parking lot entrance they'd be OK, so long as it was in English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, etc., so as to avoid accusations that they knew criminals might not speak English. But what about criminals who can't read? Blame the schools of course. Sue 'em.

I don't know how much more insane we could get, but no doubt some lawyer will find a way, and he'll have a Harvard-educated judge prepped and ready to entertain him. -- Lyle

Anonymous said...

Sorry, "The Geck" as he would be known today if he hadn't gone Dark with the Company would have the security feeds slaved to his Google Glass tactical readers. He has no time to sit and watch with tangos afoot.


RabidAlien said...

Dunno how it is in other states, but every retail store I worked at in Washington State, Hawaii, and Texas, store responsibility ended at the front doors. Literally. Slip on some ice two inches outside the sliding doors? Good luck finding the property owner (yes...we would salt/sand/scrape as well as we could, but...). Something happened in the vestibule or inside the store? Management was all over it and Loss-Prevention guys were there before the ambulances arrived. Cameras are there to record video and identify escape vehicles for the police who arrive later. I would be very surprised to find that any surveillance system outside of some inner-city locale was monitored.

Robert said...

" Even then, they do not have perfect unobstructed vision of a damn parking lot, and some cameras lack resolution sufficient to see exactly what's happening in areas of the parking lot. "

*Especially* at 11:30 at night. Most store security cameras suck pretty bad during daylight and are totally worthless at night.

Will said...

Who's to say the video system was even functional?
A couple years ago, LVPD blew away a West Pointer CCW'ing (circular firing squad) at a Costco store, and the store told everyone that the system had been non-functional for a week.

Drang said...

Lots of folks here unfamiliar with Wally World's modus operandi in court.

Walmart will not settle. Walmart does not settle. Walmart never admits anything resembling responsibility.

If they go to court and fight for years to deny any liability for one of their drivers speeding in a "no trucks" lane rear ending a car and putting the occupants in the hospital -- one of whom was my brother in law -- they will never eve consider settling this.

Not only did they deny any liability, they tried to argue it simply didn't happen.

Right or wrong, Walmart will. Not. Settle.

staghounds said...

As our author says, what is all this constant monitoring by every entity, public and private, for if not to keep us all safe?

That's why the signs on the cameras say they are there.

And having acquired the ability to at least help to keep a visitor safe, is not the surveillant expected to use it?

In exchange for our lost privacy, shouldn't we demand he use it?

I'd be surprised if it were monitored, too.

But IF:

The cameras were aimed at the specific area where this crime took place at the moment it took place.

- The cameras were being monitored by Wal-Mart security personnel at the exact moment this crime took place.

- And the video footage has sufficient clarity to show exactly what was taking place to the point where a reasonable person would see imminent threat to life in the footage, then a reasonable store operator might be found to have a duty to do something to help.

Put the other way, I can't believe that a reasonable person, actually aware that an invitee- or for that matter a trespasser- on his property is helpless and in mortal peril, has no common law duty to do anything at all to help.

I'm not talking about the duty to provide a safe location. You have every right to have a swimming pool or quicksand pit in your yard.

But once you see someone actually drowning in it, does not a duty arise to do something?

Yes it's pretty fact specific. Negligence always is.

And I don't believe that Indiana law makes the store is responsible for the unforeseeable criminal actions of people who come on the lot.

My point is that the cameras change the inquiry, they bring the possibility of actual knowledge to it. Having chosen to increase its ability to inspect and monitor its parking lot, a store may have increased its liability for what it sees or ought to have seen.

Just like having, say, quarter hourly spill patrols increases the risk of a successful slip and fall complaint if the patrol doesn't do its job. This is not a new idea.

This will be a developing area of the law for a long time. If you have cameras, do you have a duty to monitor or review them? What about signs like "Premises under video surveillance", is that a promise to protect?

Now that cameras are so cheap, is there a duty to have them?

Since "meta data" is so useful at preventing the crimes of terrorists, shouldn't we be using it to stop regular old arsonists, robbers, rapists, and murderers? That's a political decision.

But if an NSA monitor becomes aware of an imminent deadly peril to a citizen (not terror related, just ordinary), does he have a duty to report it?

And why do arson and rape get an ist, while robbery and murder get an er?

ASM826 said...

This must be, of course, a rhetorical question, "What is all this constant monitoring by every entity, public and private, for if not to keep us all safe?"

The monitoring is for what monitoring is always for, control.

Dwight Brown said...


"... the expectation is that all of the megacorps telescreens are monitored live... and that they'll sent out a team of Runners the instant something is amiss?"

Apparently some people believe this.

We have a case going here in Austin: SumDood stole a car from a mall parking lot, and engaged in a high-speed police chase which terminated when he crashed the stolen vehicle, in the process killing an innocent driver.

The innocent driver's family is suing the usual suspects. Including various stores in the mall, stating that their security watched the guy roaming around in the parking lot for an hour before the car theft and didn't take any action - therefore, those stores bear some liability for the theft, chase, and crash.

staghounds said...

That's a more tenuous case, to me- mainly because the injured party was a stranger to the store, rather than someone who was injured on premises. Also because the intervening cause, the chase/bad driving/wreck- is less foreseeable.

(The stolen car's owner has a better case, he's arguably a bailor.)

We'll find out, when juries decide what's reasonable. That's how Common Law works. But all this invitee watching will give rise to SOME level of responsibility for watchers to the watchees.

Pakkinpoppa said...

The cameras are merely like in Drake's "Lacey and His Friends". When there's a crime, rewind the tape and solve it.

Roadkill said...

As it happens, I owe my paycheck to Walmart's Dark Corporate Lords. Our security cameras are very rarely monitored live. Even AP usually uses recordings to try to track down shoplifters and to gather evidence in accidents both in the store and outside of it. The only time they are watched live is when the powers that be are monitoring employee activity(hunting for reasons to fire people) or AP is actively tracking shoplifters through the store. During the overnight shift, 10-7, AP is rarely active at smaller stores and the managers have too much to do to be playing with the cameras. That is the stocking time. All hands are throwing freight or managing inventory.

People can and have asked us to provide and escort to their cars. However, policy forbids us carrying weapons. Wouldn't have done any good.

ChrisCM said...

I think the relevant inquiry here isn't whether Walmart security was monitoring the security cameras and therefore did see the attack place and could have responded. Instead, the question is whether the cameras, and other circumstances, indicate that Walmart was on notice of a history of violent crime in its parking lot and therefore should have taken reasonable steps to prevent its invitees from being subject to the foreseeable risk of more crime.
The cameras might be one way to prove that Walmart was on notice of crime. Past instances of crime in the parking would show that Walmart either was, or should have been, on notice of this risk.
The cameras also might show that Walmart was aware of what "reasonable steps" were--perhaps constant monitoring of security cameras--but neglected to actually take those steps.
Which is to say that there are more issues here than whether security at Walmart saw something on the cameras and failed to act.

Sigivald said...

See, I'm just amused by the comic link you posted.

If you mouseover the image, it hides it with a "no copy!!!" image, annoying the hell out of normal users.

And of course, not stopping anyone at all from using their browser's tools to just steal the image directly, thus:

It's like they just want to annoy Joe Reader, who now won't commit the horrible scourge of ... saving the image directly to their desktop just like cutting it out of the paper.

Those monsters.

staghounds said...

Chris, I agree, but the duty to aid in a case of known peril as revealed by cameras is more new-because-of-cameras to my mind.

Matt G said...

Having gone to WalMart for video, I can tell you that they are the easiest-to-work-with company when it comes to trying to obtain security video. I go to our local bank and ask for video after a criminal action, and they say "Come back with a warrant."
I go to our local gas station and ask for video after a criminal event, and they say:
"1. I don't know how to use the system.
2. The cameras were dirty/out of focus, and you just see gray blobs.
3. The time/date stamps are off. Badly.
4. We weren't recording.
5. We were recording, but it's already been wiped. Maybe a 12 hour loop is a little too short.
6. We don't have a clue how to write to media even if you supply a variety of options to us."
I go to the local dollar store, and they say, "I don't know how to work the system, but my manager does-- come back when she's here next Tuesday."

But WalMart says:
"Here's a DVD with 15 different camera angles and medium-res color video, following the guy out to his car, with a good chance that you'll be able to get a view of his license plate as he exits the parking lot. We put the reader program on the disc automatically. Would like a quick written statement by our loss prevention guy and/or shift manager to show your chain of custody?"

They ALWAYS have someone on duty who can do this, and they never blink about helping. If you're worried about your privacy being compromised, I remind you that they re a private company, simply providing video of what any person could view while standing in that area then open to the public.

To me, that's providing a lot of assistance to LE.

Now, if WalMart put up all kinds of NO GUNS signs on their property, then I'd see the reason to sue 'em whenever you're accosted on their property. (But they don't.)

ChrisCM said...


I reckon you're right on that angle.

With the enormous caveat that this isn't my area of expertise, I think that a P's lawyer could still at least try to cast it as evidence of two additional things:
1) WM was aware of the foreseeable danger of attacks. If there were prior attacks, I'd guess that there's plenty of better evidence of that, though. Incident reports and what-have-you from prior criminal conduct in the parking lot. And WM could probably argue that they actually put the cameras there for loss prevention or similar, rather than attacks.
2) WM knew that the reasonable response to attacks was monitored surveillance, it just didn't do that adequately. In a hypothetical analogy, WM puts a tiny dishtowel on the floor next to its flower display. When someone slips in the dripped water, WM claims "putting down mats isn't a reasonable response," and the P's lawyer says, "Not so quick, my chum, you knew that putting down some form of absorbant product was a reasonable step, because you put down a hand towel, you just were negligent in how you put down an aborbant product."

Evidence of foreseeable risk and reasonable steps might show that WM had a duty to, e.g. put more guards in the lot, or monitor its cameras, which is partly distinct from the duty to aid situation, no?

staghounds said...

I agree with that aspect of it as well.

With one exception, the intent of the cameras is at least arguably irrelevant- it's what they can do that counts.

This may not be the case where surveillance camera liability is imposed, but they are coming.

I echo Matt G in every particular about W-M's video quality and operation.

And I can hear a plaintiff's lawyer now-

"Well, Mr. Wal Mart decision maker, that's a lot of trouble. Why is it you chose not to deploy all that expertise and effort- expertise and effort you were already using to protect your tennis shoes and DVDs- to protect real live human beings, people you invited onto your parking lots to give you their money?"

Ain't no answer. Remember the Pinto...

Will said...

My local WM has some sort of security vehicle roaming the lot on what appears to be a continuous basis. Equipped with bright blinky yellow roof lights, so the bad guys know exactly where they are at all times.

Just encountered the same sort of thing at another local strip mall, where I stopped at a big chain grocery. Damn, those blinky lights are annoying. This one had the center brake light modified to also blink yellow, which puts it right at driver's eye level. Probably a good thing it's inside the rear window...

Anonymous said...

The McDonalds lady won because Mickey D's was serving coffee that had been brewed at 190 degrees. Brewing at that temperature saved money. The lady knew the coffee was hot, but the money-saving aspect is what cost Mickey D's the case.