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Liability for False Imprisonment

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who stated that he was leaving after buying groceries when a security guard came up and threw him to the ground. The guard seriously injured him, and he wanted to know his legal rights.

When we questioned him further, we found that he had been released from the hospital a week earlier after suffering a mild stroke. When he got flustered, he slurred his speech and became easily confused. The security guard told the police that the cashier reported the man as drunk. The guard also told the police that he thought the man was mumbling and walking with a halting gait and was intoxicated.

Thankfully, the hospital did a blood screen when treating the caller’s broken leg and confirmed he had not consumed alcohol or drugs.

This scenario fits into a category of law that is called false imprisonment.

A store owner can be held liable in a false imprisonment action brought by a customer if the store operator fails to act in a “reasonable manner” when dealing with a business invitee.

The caller’s case was a bit unusual. But false imprisonment applies to his situation, just as it applies in more ordinary situations.

Here is an example of where the tort of false imprisonment would come into play.

Suppose a security officer stops a customer and accuses the customer of shoplifting shirts. In response, the customer tells the security guard he has receipts in his vehicle for the shirts that the guard suspects him of shoplifting. The guard declines to go with the man to look for the receipts. Instead, the guard escorts the customer in handcuffs to the office. Then the guard and another employee berate the customer, and they refuse to let the customer take diabetes medication. When the police arrive, the guard roughly forces the customer to the floor and knees the customer’s back while store handcuffs are removed. Such wrongful conduct is a classic example of false imprisonment, a civil wrong for which a victim can sue for compensation.

The store operator will likely rely on the shopkeeper’s privilege rule in defense of a false imprisonment claim. This doctrine grants a store operator reasonable leeway to detain a shoplifting subject while the police are called.

The store may also defend by arguing that the wrongful conduct was solely the result of the actions of a security guard company the store hired. The customer could try to show that the store owner negligently hired the security company without proper vetting in order to defeat the store owner’s defense.

Negligent hiring requires evidence that had the security company reasonably investigated the guard engaging in the wrongful conduct, it would have discovered the employee was unfit to be working for the company.

Another common example of false imprisonment can arise in situations with nightclub bouncers. Suppose a nightclub fails to train its security guard. In such a case, the lounge may be held liable for injuries to a nightclub patron when the security guard physically removes the patron from the premises.

I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”