Store Security Claims

What happens if you're injured by a store's employees or their security staff because they think you've shoplifted something?  The answer is simple.  You may have a claim for personal injury damages, and you should consult a lawyer to find out more.

The Rights of the Store

Under California law, a retailer's employees have the legal right to detain someone whenever a store employee has "probable cause" to "believe the person to be detained is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant’s premises."  (California Penal Code Section 490.5 (f)(1)).  This is commonly referred to as the "merchant's privilege", and it provides a defense for retailers whenever their employees apprehend and detain someone suspected of shoplifting.  Even where the person being detained resists, the employees have the right to use a "reasonable amount of nondeadly force necessary to protect himself or herself and to prevent escape of the person detained or the loss of tangible or intangible property".  (California Penal Code Section 490.5 (f)(2)).  Whether claims against stores are won or lost usually turns on how reasonable the employees acted in detaining the suspected shoplifter.  Most store employees are not trained to make the probable cause determination, and they usually receive even less training on the appropriate use of force.  Additionally, most retailers have policies either discouraging employees from apprehending suspected sholifters or forbidding it altogether.

Your Rights Under the Law

While retailers have rights under California law, so do you.  Generally, everyone has the right to be free from restraint or bodily harm. (California Civil Code Section 43)  In addition to this, if the conduct of a store employee rises to the level of an assault or a battery then not only is their conduct criminal it can also form the basis of a civil claim for damages.  If the conduct of a store employee was motivated by prejudice or resulted in denial of certain Constitutional rights, California law provides additional protection. (California Civil Code Sections 51, 51.7, 52.1)

At the end of the day, overcoming the merchant's privilege will generally allow someone injured by store security to obtain compensation for any injuries or damages suffered.  It is therefore important to prove the store's employee acted unreasonably in detaining someone or the amount of force they used to effect that detention.  Even if someone unlawfully took property from a store the employees are not given unrestricted rights to do harm.  Store employees are usually trained not to make apprehensions at all, but if they do, they are supposed to use the minimal force necessary to detain someone.  When an employee violates their store's policies and procedures, it is not difficult to imagine the store will be found liable for their employee's actions.

If you have been injured by a store employee under these circumstances, contacting an experienced injury attorney may be the first step toward obtaining compensation for any injuries and damages suffered.


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