In December 2014, the Maryland Court of Appeals will hear arguments regarding the extent of a security guard company’s liability for the acts of their employees. Joseph Antonio v. Security Services of America. Maryland Business Occupations and Professionals Code section 19-501 imposes liability on security guard companies for the acts committed by their employees “while on duty”. The issue is whether this statute reflects the traditional common law principle of vicarious liability, which limits the employer’s liability to acts committed by an employee in the course and scope of his employment. Alternatively, the statute can be construed to impose liability on security guard companies for all acts committed by their employees while on duty. This cases arises from the criminal conspiracy of two security guards that planned and committed arson while on duty.
It is Stewart A. Sutton’s opinion that security guard companies have a heightened duty to properly train and supervise their employees. Accordingly, the employer should be responsible for all harm caused by a security guard while on duty. This will create a strong incentive for security guard companies to hire only employees who have good moral character and lack the propensity to commit criminal acts.
In its March 2, 2015 opinion, the Court of Appeals found that security guard companies are only responsible for the acts and omissions of their employees that are committed within the scope of their employment. The Court reasoned that it would be unfair to hold security guard firms liable for acts of employees that are unrelated to their employment or the special trust placed in security guards.
Stewart A. Sutton has been involved in the regulation and reform of the security guard industry since the late 1990s. He successfully represented four clients in two different cases against a local security guard company. The undertrained and overzealous security guards had been harassing citizens and unlawfully detaining them. As a result of this litigation and the Gazette’s publication of an award winning article on the lack of regulation of security guard firms and their employees, Maryland in 1999 passed legislation to require security guards to undergo a criminal background check every 3-years and allowed the State Police to revoke the license of a security guard who lacks good moral character.