Injuries caused by security guards at retail outlets or other events -- or by bouncers at clubs or bars -- can result in very contentious litigation. Security guards and bouncers are charged with treading a very fine line. They're expected to protect patrons from unruly guests and to prevent crimes like theft, while at the same time pacifying or ejecting unruly guests without causing them injury. Read on to learn more about the legal rights of people who have been injured by a security guard or bouncer.
Security guards and bouncers, like anyone else, are duty-bound to conduct their business in a non-negligent manner. This means, depending upon the laws of a particular jurisdiction, security guards and bouncers can end up facing a personal injury claim if their conduct amounts to negligence.
An individual can be found liable for negligence if that individual has a duty to act in a certain manner and breaches that duty, causing injury or damage to someone else. In negligence cases, intent is irrelevant. Simple accidents, carelessness or recklessness can open a security guard or bouncer up to liability for negligence. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)
In general, security guards and bouncers are charged with maintaining a reasonably safe environment and conducting themselves in a resonable manner when dealing with customers and patrons. Admittedly, this is a very broad duty and it is open to interpretation. However, most jurisdictions generally accept that security guards and bouncers are entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to maintain the peace in the establishments in which they work.
Most adults have seen an over-served bar patron physically ejected from a watering hole, or an unruly concertgoer kicked out of a music venue. This very often involves a bouncer or guard (or a group thereof) physically pushing, herding or in some cases carrying the unruly individual to the exit. Such use of force tends to be viewed as reasonable, particularly when dealing with intoxicated patrons. And in the event that a patron becomes violent, bouncers and security guards can generally defend themselves and use appropriate force to restrain the violent individual.
But sometimes accidents happen.
Consider the following scenario: An unruly bar patron becomes belligerent, throwing drinks on another patron. Bouncers are informed of the situation and are ordered to eject the individual from the bar. A group of bouncers apprehend the unruly individual and physically escort him to the door. The unruly patron is so inebriated that he cannot walk straight. As the bouncers eject him from the building, they shove him in the direction of a stairwell. He stumbles, and falls down the steps, and breaks an arm.
In the scenario above, it is entirely possible that the bouncers could be liable for negligence. While they did not intend to injure or otherwise damage the unruly patron, they had a duty to eject him from the premises in a non-negligent manner. The argument can be made that by shoving the clearly intoxicated patron out the door and toward a stairwell, they breached their duty to eject him in a non-negligent manner. A reasonable person could foresee that the patron could fall down the stairs, and so the injured patron's argument would be that the bouncers had a duty to ensure that did not happen.
Negligence cases against security guards and bouncers are difficult to prove, largely because those bringing suit were usually engaged in some type of bad behavior prior to their injuries. Juries, while not sympathetic to bouncers or security guards, are also not particularly sympathetic to drunken idiots.
Security guards and bouncers are, perhaps more than other groups, prone to committing intentional torts. As physical force is often a component of their jobs, guards and bouncers can very easily "cross the line" between reasonable and excessive force.
Intentional torts are civil wrongs committed on purpose, as opposed to those that result from negligence. Common intentional torts alleged against security guards or bouncers are assault, battery and false imprisonment.
Assault happens when a security guard or bouncer intentionally places a patron in apprehension of imminent physical harm. There does not have to be an actual touching for civil assault to occur. Battery is the next logical step -- an assault turns into battery when there is a physical touching. A threateningly raised fist is assault; a punch that connects turns the assault into battery. Learn more about Assault and Battery as Personal Injury Claims.
Since there is a certain degree of latitude with regard to the physical force necessary to restrain or eject a patron, assault and battery cases can be difficult -- but certainly not impossible -- to prove against security guards and bouncers. As a rule, if the threat or actual violence exceeds the amount of force reasonably necessary to restrain or eject the unruly patron, liability for assault and battery could follow.
False imprisonment is the intentional restriction of another's freedom. A close cousin is false arrest, which is simply false imprisonment under the ostensible color of law. Security guards or bouncers who detain shoplifters or patrons while they are waiting for the police can run afoul of false imprisonment or false arrest charges. Again, the law generally offers a certain degree of latitude in these cases, but if the degree of restraint used is judged to be unreasonable, liability can follow.
Security guards and bouncers are, in most cases, employees of the venues they are charged with protecting. As a result, it is possible for the owner of the venue to be held liable for the harmful actions of their employees. Local laws vary regarding just when -- and precisely how -- employers may be held liable for the actions of security employees.
In many states, as long as the security personnel are acting reasonably within the scope of their employment, employers can he held vicariously liable. In those states, only when the employee commits an act so outlandish and egregiously excessive as to be considered beyond the scope of their duties can an employer successfully avoid vicarious liability. In many cases, victims will allege that security personnel have not been appropriately trained, which can also open employers to liability.