Park and pray
Sandra Montgomery is still hanging on to hope that she will find her motor car, which was stolen from its parked position at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in Papine, St Andrew, just over two months ago.
But even as she yearns for the recovery of her property, Montgomery remains furious at the indifference with which security guards at the hospital’s main gate greeted her complaint of the theft on Friday, October 20.
The fact, too, that the security guards repotedly did not follow the vehicle exit protocol established by the hospital has made matters worse.
Montgomery told the Jamaica Observer that she had taken her mother to the Accident and Emergency Department at approximately 7:00 am on the day and had received a hospital vehicle pass from one of the security guards.
“I parked my vehicle a few blocks, maybe five, six cars down from Accident and Emergency, so it wasn’t anywhere far out, and I spent the entire day in the hospital. When I approached where I had parked my vehicle about 7:30 in the evening, I didn’t see the vehicle,” she said.
“I went to the security guard and I was explaining that I have the parking ticket and my vehicle is not where I parked it and he just casually brushed it off and say that is everyday these things happen here,” she told the Sunday Observer.
Expressing disbelief, Montgomery said she queried how could it be possible for someone to exit the premises with her vehicle when she still had her vehicle pass.
“The security told me that if somebody approached them and said they lose their parking ticket, which people do, they would just charge them $500 and they allow them to leave the compound,” Montgomery related.
“What got me so annoyed was that they were acting so casual, like it’s nothing, and when I went and I spoke to another security lady on the compound she asked me why mi never come out of the hospital to check on my vehicle,” Montgomery said, unable to hide her frustration.
She said that she called her daughter to pick her up and when they were leaving they decided to test the system by telling the security guard that her daughter did not have a hospital vehicle pass. The guard, Montgomery said, allowed them to leave without even checking to establish the ownership of the motor car.
However, according to UHWI Public Relations Officer Nordia Francis-Williams, the hospital has a protocol in situations where drivers are trying to exit without the vehicle pass.
“The security guard should first take the vehicle out of the line of traffic, politely ask the driver to check his or her vehicle properly, then proceed to ask for their vehicle documents and driver’s licence to verify that the person is the legitimate owner,” Francis-Williams told the Sunday Observer.
“The security should then log the information in a log book, capturing name, TRN, vehicle owner, and other particulars, then the person should be given an opportunity to pay the $500 fine at the nearest cashier and after verification of payment the person can proceed thereafter to exit the hospital,” she explained.
Francis-Williams said that if the driver refuses to produce his/her licence and vehicle documents, the security guards have been advised to call the police.
She expressed disappointment at the manner in which the security guards responded to Montgomery, saying that they must always have a positive duty-of-care attitude towards clients.
“The operations management team has spoken to the on-site management team for the security services provider to give the team some guidance on empathy for our clients, staff, and visitors that are exposed to such situations of vehicle theft,” Francis-Williams said.
She also said that the hospital has implemented measures to address vehicle theft. They include increased security presence, strategic placement of barriers and chains in car parks, and heightened patrolling by both armed and unarmed personnel.
“The engineering and maintenance team has started preparing the scope of work documentation to build a strong ICT infrastructure at the hospital to prepare to install high-quality surveillance cameras and to supply and install smart video solution systems at strategic locations,” she added.
However, the measures appear not to be fully effective as on Friday when the Sunday Observer visited the hospital a woman told the newspaper that just last week a motor vehicle owned by a policeman was stolen from the compound.
“A whole heap a foolishness a gwaan over there; is like the security dem a sleep,” she said, adding that motor vehicle theft is common at the hospital.
A man, who said he recently took a sick relative to UHWI, told the Sunday Observer that he knows of instances of vehicle theft from the hospital.
“I had to go there with my cousin, and although the guards gave me the parking ticket, I felt uneasy because I was there for a long time. I jus’ prayed that my car wasn’t stolen. I was lucky,” he said.
The matter of whether the hospital has any liability was put to attorney-at-law Andria Whyte Walters. She told the Sunday Observer that it would be unlikely that Montgomery is successful in any claim in court against both the security company and the hospital.
“Under the Occupiers Liability Act, unless there exists a special relationship there is no duty on the occupier to protect the goods from theft or damage by a third party,” said Whyte Walters, founder and principal of Whyte Walters Law.
“I know that it sounds bad; you park your vehicle, you get a ticket, and you lock up and you go about your business and when you return either you notice the vehicle is crashed, dented or even worse, it is stolen. But the issue is, does the act of them giving you a ticket give rise to a special relationship,” she said.
Whyte Walters referred to a 2015 Supreme Court case with similar facts (Lascelle Samms and Jillian Samms v Main Investments Limited and Milex Security Services Limited) noting that the court found that the complainant had physical control of the vehicle because she did not hand over the key to the security guards which would create that special relationship that would allow them to have a duty of care to protect the vehicle.
“I understand she felt the motor vehicle would be reasonably safe due to presence of the security guards, but is there any contractual relationship between the lady and UHWI that would give rise to a duty to be owed? I would argue no, especially with the signs saying park at your own risk. Neither the security company nor UHWI would have any duty to guard against the risk of theft because she retained the possession and custody of her vehicle, she did not hand over the key to them and say, ‘Listen, I am giving you my car, it is your duty to make sure it’s safe’. So based on the Supreme Court decision, I would say park at your own risk,” Whyte Walters said.
“I recommend that she retains the services of an attorney-at-law and let them write to the insurance company and see if she can get any relief on that end, depending on the type of insurance policy that she has,” Whyte Walters advised.
Last week, Montgomery told the Sunday Observer that she has reported the theft to her insurance company but is still awaiting word from the firm.
At the same time, she said she has not lost hope of finding her white Toyota Noah.
“Every day I am on the road looking out for it. I am also still awaiting updates from the hospital and the police regarding the vehicle.”