Could You be Liable for the Risks of an Intruder?

Could You be Liable for the Risks of an Intruder?

In a recent case, a landlord owned and operated a large shopping centre. The landlord engaged a security company to provide security for the premises. This security company sub-contracted the responsibilities to another security company who employed a man to guard the shopping centre. This man was made familiar with various manuals which covered his role and outlined responses to specific incidents like armed persons and robberies.

One night, an intruder entered the premises by climbing through a narrow gap above an external roller door. The security guard, seated in his office saw the intruder on CCTV cameras initially, but then lost sight of him as he moved to an area out of vision. The security guard left the control room to investigate. The intruder saw the security guard and moved towards him wielding an axe and threatened to kill him. The security guard quickly fled to the control room and called the police. Shortly after arriving the police arrested the intruder.

The security guard was very shaken from the incident. After the incident he had ongoing mental health problems arising from post-traumatic stress. He sued the landlord, the security company and his own employer the sub-contractor claiming that they had been negligent and that ultimately their negligence caused him psychiatric harm. 

The case was first heard by the NSW Supreme Court. It held that by leaving the safety of the control room and confronting the intruder, the security guard voluntarily consented to the risk of his actions. Consequently, it dismissed the security guard’s claim. On appeal however, the court clarified that an employee’s attendance at work does not mean they voluntarily consent to the risk of harm. It held that because the security guard’s job was to report intruders to police, not to confront them, his employer’s duty of care did not apply to his actions. Therefore, the appeal court also dismissed the security guard’s claim.

Whilst none of the businesses were held liable on this occasion, this case is a reminder that your business must ensure that all its staff understand their duties and complete them correctly.