Have you ever been detained for questioning at a department store because an item in your shopping bag set off an alarm at the exit? If so, you may have considered suing the store for false imprisonment. However, in most cases, you would lose.
What is false imprisonment?
False imprisonment occurs when a defendant intentionally causes a victim to be confined to a bounded area.
Confinement of a victim may occur by:
* physical barrier
* physical force against the victim or his family
* threats of physical force (future threats are insufficient)
* failing to fulfill a duty to assist the victim in leaving
* abusing legal authority in detaining the victim
A "bounded area" means a place in which the victim's freedom of movement is limited in all directions. If there is a reasonable means of escape, the victim is not considered confined in a bounded area.
The amount of time that a victim is restrained is irrelevant in determining whether or not a defendant is liable for false imprisonment. The amount of time will, however, be material when computing the victim's damages.
A victim may not maintain an action for false imprisonment if he is arrested or detained by virtue of legal process issued by a court or official. However, he may maintain such an action if the arrest is made without a warrant and is unlawful.
Some arrests without a warrant are privileged and valid and will not support a cause of action for false imprisonment.
A police officer may make an arrest without a warrant if he has reasonable grounds to believe that a felony has been committed and that the person he arrests has committed it.
A private citizen may make an arrest without a warrant if a felony has been committed and he has reasonable grounds to believe that the person he arrests has committed it.
A police officer or a private citizen may make an arrest without a warrant for a misdemeanor if the misdemeanor was a breach of the peace and was committed in the presence of the police officer or the private citizen.
A police officer or a private citizen may make an arrest without a warrant if a felony or breach of the peace is being committed or reasonably appears about to be committed.
Detention for shoplifting
A store owner has the privilege to detain shoppers whom he suspects of shoplifting without being liable for false imprisonment. In order to detain a shopper for investigation, a store owner must have a reasonable belief that the shopper is committing a theft and the detention must be conducted in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable amount of time.
A victim need not show that he suffered any actual damage in order to sue for false imprisonment.
Copyright 2005 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.