Injuries Caused by a Security Guard or Bouncer

Learn when a security guard or bouncer—and their employer—might be liable for causing injury to customers.

Injuries caused by security guards at retail outlets or other events—or by bouncers at clubs or bars—can lead to very contentious litigation. Security guards and bouncers tread a fine line. They're expected to protect patrons from unruly guests and prevent crimes like theft, while at the same time handling unruly guests without hurting them. Read on to learn more about the legal rights of people who have been injured by security guards or bouncers.

Injuries Arising from Negligence

Security guards and bouncers, like everyone else, are duty-bound to conduct their business in a non-negligent manner. This means that security guards and bouncers can face personal injury claims if their actions (or inactions) amount to negligence.

Security guards and bouncers have a duty to maintain a reasonably safe environment and act in a reasonable way when dealing with customers and patrons. If they act (or fail to act) in a way that violates their duties and hurt somebody, they can be liable (responsible) for the harm and ordered to pay money damages. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)

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. A bouncer or security guard is usually the person physically pushing, herding, or carrying unruly individuals to the exit. Most jurisdictions accept that security guards and bouncers have a right to use a reasonable amount of force to maintain the peace, especially when dealing with intoxicated patrons. And if a patron gets violent, bouncers and security guards can defend themselves and use appropriate force to restrain the violent individual.

But sometimes security teams are careless. For example, say an unruly bar patron becomes belligerent, throwing drinks on another patron. Bouncers decide to kick him out of the bar. The unruly patron is so drunk that he can't walk straight. As the bouncers escort him from the building, they shove him in the direction of a stairwell. He stumbles, falls down the steps, and breaks an arm.

Were the bouncers' actions reasonable or negligent? The injured patron would argue that by shoving a clearly intoxicated person out the door and toward a stairwell, the bouncers were negligent. A reasonable person could predict that the patron could fall down the stairs, and so the bouncers had a duty to make sure that didn't happen.

Negligence cases against security guards and bouncers are difficult to prove, largely because those bringing suits (plaintiffs) were usually engaged in some type of bad behavior prior to their injuries. Juries, while not particularly sympathetic to bouncers or security guards, are also not sympathetic to drunken troublemakers.

Assault, Battery, and Other Intentional Torts

Security guards and bouncers are 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 (carelessness). 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 fear of immediate physical harm. A bouncer doesn't have to touch a patron for a civil assault to happen. An assault turns into a battery when there is physical touching. A threateningly raised fist is assault; a punch that connects turns the assault into a battery. Learn more about Assault and Battery as Personal Injury Claims.

Assault and battery cases can be difficult to prove against security guards and bouncers because the law allows them to use some physical force to restrain or eject unruly patrons. 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 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 laws. Again, the law generally offers a certain degree of latitude in these cases, but if the degree of restraint used is unreasonable, liability can follow.

Vicarious Liability of Employers

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 (called vicarious liability). 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 security personnel are acting reasonably within the scope of their employment, employers can be held vicariously liable. In those states, only when the employee commits an act so outlandish and egregious as to be considered beyond the scope of their duties can an employer successfully avoid vicarious liability. Victims might also allege that security personnel was not properly trained, which can also open employers to liability.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been injured by a security guard or bouncer, you might want to talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help you decide on the best way forward and tell you how much time you have to file a lawsuit. You can learn more about finding the right personal injury lawyer or use Nolo's directory to find an experienced personal injury lawyer today.

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