Private Security Misconduct Claims
Private security employees staff a number and variety of businesses throughout this State and specifically in Orange County. Their work is often crucial to maintaining the safety, security and property of businesses and their patrons. However, those security personnel who abuse their authority and harm business patrons can be held accountable for the injuries and damages they cause. Also, the business hiring the security employee can be liable for the misconduct of their employees, so long as the wrong was committed in the course and scope of their employment.
Types of Security Misconduct
Just as there are a variety of private security forces providing protection for businesses, there are a variety of wrongs that are commonly seen. In a bar or restaurant setting, security guards/bouncers occasionally use too much force when trying to maintain order. If someone is injured because of this excessive force, that victim has the right to be compensated. Likewise, in a retail environment it is not uncommon to see loss prevention agents make false detentions and arrests. If a store customer is unlawfully detained or arrested, then they have the right to pursue damages for the injuries and other losses that occur.
Security Law In California
Many people are of the mistaken belief that a security guard has the same power of arrest as a police officer in California. This is not the case. In general, security personnel must be right when they take someone into custody for a crime. In contrast, a police officer is permitted to be wrong so long as they acted with probable cause. With misdemeanors, a security guard (like any other private citizen) must actually witness the crime before such an arrest is lawful. When the crime at issue is a felony, and one was actually committed but not in the security guard's presence, there must be "reasonable cause" to believe the person arrested committed that crime. California Penal Code Section 837. This reasonable cause defense only applies to felonies, not misdemeanor arrests. Again, in the case of a misdemeanor, the guard must witness the crime, and the person arrested must be the one who actually committed it. Otherwise, the guard and his employer can be sued for false arrest.
One of the major exceptions to the above rules comes into play in the retail setting. When a store loss prevention agent has "probable cause to believe" someone has unlawfully taken or is attempting to unlawfully take store property from the premises, they may detain that person for a reasonable length of time. In other words, so long as they act reasonably, the agent and the store will not be found responsible for any losses to the patron that might occur. This is commonly referred to as the "merchant's privilege." California Penal Code Section 490.5. This rule provides greater protection from claims for the agent and the store, but it is not absolute.
Remedies Available to Victims
When a security or loss prevention employee violates the rules above, they and their employer can be held liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress, among other things. There are statutes in California that also provide for even greater remedies, particularly when the wrong was committed for a racial or other unlawful motive. Beyond these remedies, California law allows for the recovery of punitive damages where the security employee acted with an intent to harm someone.
If you or a loved one has been injured or falsely arrested by private security, contacting an experienced injury attorney in Orange County may be the first and best step toward obtaining a fair recovery for the injuries and damages sustained.