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When are Security Guards Liable for Causing Injury to Customers?

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The security industry has experienced a number of recent changes, including an increased need for guards. With this growth comes increased risks— it’s important to make sure you are protecting your business and your security employees from potential threats. Central Insurance Agency is prepared to provide you with a custom insurance solution to fit your needs.

Injuries Caused by a Security Guard or Bouncer

By Nolo

Injuries caused by security guards at retail outlets or other events — or by bouncers at clubs or bars — can result in very contentious litigation. Security guards and bouncers are charged with treading a very fine line. They’re expected to protect patrons from unruly guests and to prevent crimes like theft, while at the same time pacifying or ejecting unruly guests without causing them injury.

Injuries Arising from Negligence

Security guards and bouncers, like anyone else, are duty-bound to conduct their business in a non-negligent manner. This means, depending upon the laws of a particular jurisdiction, security guards and bouncers can end up facing a personal injury claim if their conduct amounts to negligence.

An individual can be found liable for negligence if that individual has a duty to act in a certain manner and breaches that duty, causing injury or damage to someone else. In negligence cases, intent is irrelevant. Simple accidents, carelessness or recklessness can open a security guard or bouncer up to liability for negligence. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)

In general, security guards and bouncers are charged with maintaining a reasonably safe environment and conducting themselves in a resonable manner when dealing with customers and patrons. Admittedly, this is a very broad duty and it is open to interpretation. However, most jurisdictions generally accept that security guards and bouncers are entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to maintain the peace in the establishments in which they work.

Most adults have seen an over-served bar patron physically ejected from a watering hole, or an unruly concertgoer kicked out of a music venue. This very often involves a bouncer or guard (or a group thereof) physically pushing, herding or in some cases carrying the unruly individual to the exit. Such use of force tends to be viewed as reasonable, particularly when dealing with intoxicated patrons. And in the event that a patron becomes violent, bouncers and security guards can generally defend themselves and use appropriate force to restrain the violent individual.

Assault, Battery and Other Intentional Torts

Security guards and bouncers are, perhaps more than other groups, prone to committing intentional torts. As physical force is often a component of their jobs, guards and bouncers can very easily “cross the line” between reasonable and excessive force.

Intentional torts are civil wrongs committed on purpose, as opposed to those that result from negligence. Common intentional torts alleged against security guards or bouncers are assault, battery and false imprisonment.

Assault happens when a security guard or bouncer intentionally places a patron in apprehension of imminent physical harm. There does not have to be an actual touching for civil assault to occur. Battery is the next logical step — an assault turns into battery when there is a physical touching. A threateningly raised fist is assault; a punch that connects turns the assault into battery. Learn more about Assault and Battery as Personal Injury Claims.

Since there is a certain degree of latitude with regard to the physical force necessary to restrain or eject a patron, assault and battery cases can be difficult — but certainly not impossible — to prove against security guards and bouncers. As a rule, if the threat or actual violence exceeds the amount of force reasonably necessary to restrain or eject the unruly patron, liability for assault and battery could follow.

Vicarious Liability of Employers

Security guards and bouncers are, in most cases, employees of the venues they are charged with protecting. As a result, it is possible for the owner of the venue to be held liable for the harmful actions of their employees. Local laws vary regarding just when — and precisely how — employers may be held liable for the actions of security employees.

In many states, as long as the security personnel are acting reasonably within the scope of their employment, employers can be held vicariously liable. In those states, only when the employee commits an act so outlandish and egregiously excessive as to be considered beyond the scope of their duties can an employer successfully avoid vicarious liability. In many cases, victims will allege that security personnel have not been appropriately trained, which can also open employers to liability.

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