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Overzealous and Under-trained Loss Prevention Security Guards: Liability for False Imprisonment

February 02, 2011

Many of us have witnessed an overzealous security guard, who often is under-trained, engage in excessively aggressive conduct to stop a suspected shoplifter from leaving a store without paying. A person who is wrongfully detained or subject to unreasonable force by an overzealous loss prevention agent may seek damages for any injuries and emotional distress. False imprisonment essentially amounts to restraining or restricting a person's movement and does not necessarily mean the use of physical force. Verbal threats or intimidation, which make it seem that someone is not free to go is sufficient to constitute false imprisonment.

Pursuing a claim against a store for false imprisonment has historically been difficult under Georgia law. A recent appeals court decision, Ferrell v. Mikula, has clarified the law and made it easier for customers to hold businesses accountable. If you have been the victim of the overly aggressive actions of a store security guard, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and other damages. Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, has been representing victims who suffer false imprisonment throughout Georgia for over 37 years.

Traditionally, false imprisonment lawsuits under Georgia law were difficult because they required a victim to establish an "absence of probable cause" and/or malice on behalf of the victim. The court in Ferrell essentially eliminated these requirements:

"False imprisonment is the unlawful detention of the person of another, for any length of time, whereby such person is deprived of his personal liberty. The only essential elements of the action being the detention and its unlawfulness, malice and the want of probable cause need not be shown." 

A business is generally liable unless it can show that a reasonable person would have believed that the customer was shoplifting and that the manner and length of the detention were reasonable. The way you look or dress is not a sufficient basis to detain you. Generally, the security guard must have observed you taking and concealing an item, in person or on surveillance video, before exiting the store without paying. If you are suspected of shoplifting, a security guard may briefly detain you and question you in a back office. It is important to keep in mind that if the store has sufficient evidence to justify an arrest, including surveillance video or merchandise found on your person, the business will immediately contact the police rather than question you.

In many cases, the store has an insufficient basis to justify not letting you go and are operating on a mere hunch based on "suspicious activity," racial or socio-economic profiling or other innocent factors. The loss prevention security guard may be counting on the fact that you are embarrassed and resort to thinly veiled threats or overzealous interrogation in the hopes that you will "confess." These periods of detention can even escalate into actual battery, verbal assaults, physical restraint with handcuffs or prolonged extensive interrogation. These types of conduct exceed the security officer's legal authority and may constitute false imprisonment.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of an overzealous security guard, you may be able to recover damages for physical injuries, emotional distress, and damage to your reputation. If you are assaulted, subjected to extremely aggressive tactics or the security guards act with malice, you may also seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish particularly egregious conduct and to discourage such conduct in the future. It is not uncommon for punitive damages to constitute the largest component of a monetary award by a judge or jury.

Contact Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights if you have been the victim of false imprisonment by a Georgia business including a mall shop, grocery store, department store or restaurant. Our experienced Georgia false imprisonment attorneys are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located we are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24 hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.