Perhaps one of the most common scenarios in which someone is victimized by an unlawful arrest or imprisonment is one involving private security. While the law in California allows for any private person to make a "citizen's arrest", there are limitations and the authority to do so is limited. When compared to a police officer, a security officer, loss prevention agent, or other private law enforcement employee has less authority and right to detain or arrest someone. When a private or retail security employee unlawfully detains or arrests someone, that victim has a right to be compensated for any physical harm or emotional upset that results.
Most retailers and large, commercial property owners, hire agents or guards to protect their property and maintain the peace in their business. In the case of a property owner, these employees are usually uniformed guards who patrol the property. Their primary function is that of ensuring certain rules are followed (relative to parking and other activities), and they rarely have occasion to apprehend suspected law violators. However, when someone is detained or arrested, the guard takes a significant risk that he may violate that person's right to be free from an unlawful imprisonment or arrest. For example, if a guard suspects someone on the property is breaking into a car, but it actually turns out to be that suspect's own vehicle, the victim may have a right to compensation for the unlawful use of force in the arrest. In the worst scenario, the guard goes so far as to use a weapon and physically injures someone he mistakenly believes committed a crime.
Under those circumstances, the guard and his employer may be held liable for substantial injuries and damages. Retail security/loss prevention agents probably have more contact with suspected law violators than any other type of private law enforcement employee. It is fairly common for an "undercover" shoplift agent to apprehend a suspected shoplifter and then pursue a criminal prosecution. In the event the agent is unreasonably mistaken about whether the suspected shoplifter actually stole something from a store, the victim has a right to be compensated for the physical and emotional harm caused. One of the most important legal rules to keep in mind is that the agent may well be immune from liability if there was "probable cause" to believe the person apprehended took or was attempting to unlawfully take store merchandise. This is known as the merchant's privilege, and it provides at least some protection for the retailer in the event of a lawsuit, but it is far from absolute.
In addition to false arrest and imprisonment, retailers and property owners may be held liable for malicious prosecution of a criminal case if the accused is ultimately found not guilty. Sometimes, an inexperienced and perhaps overzealous guard or agent will make a mistake in the apprehension and arrest of an individual and then compound the problem by insisting on a criminal prosecution. When the matter goes to a judge or jury trial and the result is an acquittal, the falsely accused person has a right to be compensated for the initial detention and arrest, as well as the criminal prosecution.
It must be shown in these cases that the guard or agent acted without probable cause before such liability will be imposed. Given that most private law enforcement employees are not put through nearly the same training or education as a police officer, it is not uncommon for these sometimes outrageous mistakes to be made. Every false arrest or imprisonment case is unique and the potential causes of harm endless. An experienced trial attorney can help you find your way through the facts and the law to reach a fair result.
As an Orange County personal injury attorneys, Paul W. Ralph has seen his fair share of false imprisonment cases. From wrongful arrest to improper detainment, Mr. Ralph knows that sometimes mistakes are made and the arresting party needs to be held responsible. That's why, as an Orange County bike accident lawyer, he works hard to see the victims compensated.