A claim for excessive force was recently resolved with a major supermarket chain for $30,000.00. The allegations of the claim involved the arrest of a minor (just 14 years old) for allegedly taking merchandise worth less than $8.00 without paying for it. During the apprehension of the minor, two loss prevention agents (both male adults weighing over 200 pounds) threw the minor to the ground, manhandled him and eventually handcuffed him behind his back. The minor sustained injuries to his nose, wrists and back.
When is Force by Security or Loss Prevention Excessive
When there is a claim of excessive force against loss prevention or security employees, the test to determine whether the force is unlawful generally requires application of a reasonableness standard. Whenever the person being apprehended has committed an unlawful act, the use of some force to take them into custody is permissible under the law. However, when the alleged crime involves only the potential loss of property and not serious bodily injury or death, the force used must be nondeadly and “reasonable” under all of the circumstances. Any force beyond that reasonably necessary is considered unlawful and may give rise to a claim for damages. Force likely to cause death or serious bodily injury is never allowed under these circumstances. Even criminal charges may be pursued against the security or loss prevention employees where their conduct exceeds that reasonably necessary.
In the case above, the alleged shoplifter was just 14 years old and weighed less than 150 pounds. The fact that two grown men (presumably trained in how to make an apprehension) had to resort to the throwing the minor to the ground, tossing him around the front of the store and causing injuries is itself strong evidence the force was unreasonable. The minor was outweighed by more than 50 pounds, and outnumbered two to one. It was nothing short of inexcusable that he would be injured while being taken into custody, even if there was passive or active resistance. An apprehension like this should be accomplished by simply escorting the minor to the loss prevention office while quickly overcoming any resistance and potential for injury by restraining him. In fact, most retailers discourage the use of any real force when making a shoplift apprehension, particularly where the subject is a minor.
Legal Claims Against Security or Loss Prevention
When the force used by security or loss prevention employees exceeds that which is reasonable under the circumstances, the unlawful force gives rise to claims for assault and battery, at a minimum. Any physical injury resulting from that assault and battery is something for which the victim is entitled to compensation. Depending on the circumstances, and how “extreme and outrageous” they are, a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) may also be brought. Sometimes, the worst injury is an emotional one. In addition to these common law claims, there may also be a statutory claim for damages under California law.
For example, beyond a claim for assault, battery and IIED, the victim may have a valid cause of action for a violation of California Civil Code § 52.1 which authorizes a lawsuit against anyone who interferes, or tries to do so, by threats, intimidation, or coercion, with an individual’s exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by federal or state law. The damages recoverable include a sum of up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than four thousand dollars ($4,000), and any attorney’s fees that may be determined by the court.
In addition to claims for compensatory damages, there may also be the potential for a punitive damage recovery when security or loss prevention employees use excessive force. The claims in these cases are nearly always against the employers so it must be shown the business knew or reasonably should have known the loss prevention or security employee presented a danger before the incident. The evidence establishing employer responsibility for punitive damages generally involves proof of prior misconduct or shoddy hiring practices. For example, where a business hires a security or loss prevention employee with a violent criminal past the employer will likely be held liable for punitive damages if that same loss prevention or security employee causes an unlawful injury.
Contact an Orange County Injury Attorney
If you or a loved one were injured by a loss prevention or security employee, seeking the advice of a seasoned personal injury attorney is likely the best first step to take toward obtaining compensation for the injuries and damages suffered. Mr. Ralph has more than 30 years of experience at handling personal injury cases involving excessive force and false arrest. His office is centrally located in Orange County for the convenience of his clients. Mr. Ralph’s services are provided on a contingency basis so if there is no recovery there are no fees. He can be reached for a free consultation by calling the number below or simply sending a message with the details of your potential case.