Boundaries of Negligent Security: When is an Employer Liable?

When there is injury or damage because of the failure to provide any or adequate security, we often want to hold the security company liable. We rarely give thought to whether the company is responsible for the negligence, acts, or omissions of the guards they employ.

Maryland law does make security companies vicariously liable for the acts of their employee guards, but a recent case tested the boundaries of that law, where employees commit acts that are not in the course and scope of their security duties.

Guards Actions are Outside Scope of Employment

The case involved two security guards, who the homeowners allege set forth on a plan to set homes on fire in Charles County, Maryland. There was some indication that the fire may have been a result of racism, specifically, that the guards were seeking to prevent residents from moving in. Although many homes were damaged, there were no injuries.

Discovery revealed that one guard had been fired by the security agency previously, but then rehired, despite having negative comments in his personnel file.

The homeowners filed suit, not just against the accused arsonists, but against the company hiring them, for negligent hiring claims. The company defended by saying that they could not be liable, because if the guards had committed the arson, they did so without the company’s knowledge, consent, or permission, and outside the scope of their employment. Thus, the company argued, it could not be vicariously liable for the guards actions.

The court agreed, and dismissed the company as a defendant in the case, and an appeal ensued.

Interpreting Maryland’s Security Guards Act

On appeal, the homeowners argued that the company could be held liable for the guards’ actions because of the Maryland Security Guards Act, which makes employers vicariously liable for negligence of security guards. The homeowners contended that there was liability, even if the guards were not acting in the scope of their employment.

Put another way, under the statute, the homeowners argued that as long as an act was conducted while a guard was on duty, no matter what the act was, the hiring company is responsible.

The question has traditionally been whether an employee has been furthering his or her employer’s goals. If not, the employer is not liable. Did the Act change this analysis?

The Act could be read many different ways. Thus, the court looked to policy considerations, to see how broad the Act could be read. The court felt that it would be unfair to hold a company responsible for acts of its employees that have nothing to do with their job. Simply making employers liable for what employees do, just because they happen to be on the job, was too far from traditional notions of vicarious liability for the court, and thus, it held the employer was properly dismissed from the case.

Negligent security cases can have multiple defendants and require detailed factual analysis. There may be parties liable you aren’t even aware of. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.