Sameer Nath, Esq.
Injuries caused by Security Personnel (Security Guards, Bouncers etc.)
Many of us have seen unruly, drunk or otherwise combative people forcibly removed from bars, concert halls, or other events. Security personnel (such as security guards, bouncers, Loss Prevention Officers from retail stores, etc.) personnel have a difficult job of maintaining safety and order where they have to tread a very fine line in which they cannot go too far in their use of force.
While security personnel usually do not have the full authority of sworn Police Officers to make an arrest or use force on a suspect, they have limited abilities to restrain suspected shoplifters and to use force to eject unruly patrons from establishments in order to maintain everyone else’s safety. If you have been injured by a bouncer or security guard, it is very important to seek out an attorney who is familiar with the laws governing them as they are neither simple nor straightforward.
Injuries from security personnel fall into two basic categories: negligence and intentional acts. In many circumstances, a non-attorney may not fully appreciate which category their incident falls into. In New York, each is governed by a different Statute of Limitations, (in certain circumstances, both may apply) so it is important to speak with a Personal Injury Attorney as soon as possible in order to protect your case.
Negligent acts of Security Personnel:
Negligence occurs when security personnel don’t necessarily intend the harm that they cause, but act unreasonably in the circumstances. For example, in the process of pushing an unruly patron out of a bar, the bouncer shoves the patron down a stairwell, causing them to tumble and sustain injuries.
These cases can be difficult because the injured person was often acting badly, drunkenly, etc. beforehand, and a jury may not sympathetic to a drunken troublemaker who got hurt while being ejected from a concert. Nonetheless, every situation is different, so it is always better to speak with an attorney rather than assume there is no case. When an instance of negligence involving security personnel occurs in New York State, the Statute of Limitations sets three (3) years from the date of the incident in which to file a lawsuit. While three years might sound like a long time, it isn’t good to wait because evidence tends to vanish over time (video surveillance, etc.), witness memories fade, and the overall conditions of the place can change (construction, store closing, etc.).
Intentional Acts of Security Personnel:
Security personnel are permitted to use some force in the lawful and reasonable exercise of their duties, and this is common sense. It doesn’t shock most of us when a bar patron who was fighting is pushed, carried, or otherwise physically removed from an establishment. Similarly, when a suspected shoplifter is approached by loss Prevention Officers at a supermarket, we understand it to be reasonable when they detain that person to investigate, or walk that person to a back room to await police arrival.
However, overzealous security personnel can go too far by punching, kicking, slamming, wrestling or otherwise using an unreasonable amount of violence to against a person who may not even be resisting, fighting, or otherwise physically threatening.
Of course, like all people, a security officer is permitted to use reasonable force to defend themselves while lawfully conducting their duties. They are also allowed to use reasonable force to perform their duties (e.g. detain a shoplifter, eject an unruly patron, etc.) Liability for assault and battery arises when they take things too far.
Assault: Assault occurs when a bouncer places a person in immediate apprehension of physical contact – raising a fist or a nightstick at someone can constitute an assault.
Battery: Battery occurs when the improper physical contact occurs, e.g.: fist meets face, knee meets ribs, etc.
False imprisonment: False imprisonment occurs when a person is wrongly detained against their will and is conscious of their confinement. An example of this is if Loss Prevention grabs the wrong person and detains them as a shoplifter.
New York General Business Law section 218 specifically authorizes security personnel to stop and detain a person who they reasonably suspect of stealing items, trying to defeat anti-theft devices or bringing recording devices into movie theaters. However beyond these discrete categories, their authority to detain is very limited.
The Statute of Limitations to file a lawsuit against private security personnel for intentional acts in New York is one year, so it is important to contact a Personal Injury Attorney as soon as possible in order to best protect your lawsuit.
Are employers liable for the acts of their security personnel?
The answer to this question is frequently yes. “Respondeat superior” is a legal principle which holds an employer accountable for acts of its employees committed in the scope of their duties. In addition, an employer can be held liable for negligent hiring and training of its security personnel. If the conduct of the security personnel was extremely out of line, the employer might try to disclaim liability by saying the actions were outside the scope of their duties. It is important to get the advice of an experienced Personal Isnjury Attorney because they can best assess who your case should proceed against and how to best deal with an employer disclaiming liability.
If you have been injured by security personnel and believe you may be entitled to compensation call 914-500-7990 to set up a free consultation.