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VA Man Sues Starbucks Over Hidden Toilet Camera

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 22, 2011 6:46 AM

A Virginia man is suing Starbucks over a hidden toilet camera found by his 5-year-old daughter.

While visiting a Washington location, the girl discovered the camera attached to a pipe under the sink. It was pointed at the toilet and recording occupants.

This is at least the fourth Starbucks camera incident in the last year, though it appears to be the first lawsuit.

It's not clear why Starbucks is being sued for the hidden toilet camera, as there are no allegations of employee involvement. However, the girl's father, William Yockey, is alleging negligence and breach of privacy.

Under negligence law, Starbucks is legally required to inspect its locations for hidden dangers. That inspection only needs to be reasonable in scope.

The lawsuit may be asserting that a reasonable inspection by Starbucks includes a search for hidden toilet cameras.

In light of the four previous incidents--all of which resulted in arrests--one could argue that Starbucks was aware of the potential danger. Such knowledge may be a legal basis for a camera-specific search at all locations.

The breach of privacy claim is similarly murky.

There is no evidence that Starbucks employees viewed the footage, or placed the camera in the bathroom. Because it is an intentional tort, third parties are generally not held responsible for privacy breaches perpetrated by others.

Despite these legal questions, WTOP-TV reports that a judge has rejected Starbucks' request to dismiss the case. On this basis alone, there is likely some merit to the underlying claims.

Perhaps Starbucks will now start seeking out hidden toilet cameras as a result.

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