Although this site is geared mostly towards police misconduct, many cities are cutting police department budgets. After years of falling crimes rates, violent crime is on the uptick. The solution for both governments and private businesses is private security officers. There are more private security guards than ever in our communities. But what happens when a security guard harms or wrongfully kills someone? Let’s dive right in and answer that question.
Security guards and security companies can be sued for personal injuries, assault, false arrest and other misconduct. Suing a security guard or private security company / guard force is often easier than suing the police. Unless the guards are government employees, they typically don’t enjoy so-called qualified immunity like cops.
Cops vs Security Guards – What Is the Difference?
One of the biggest differences between suing bad cops versus bad security is the doctrine of qualified immunity. Dating back to the 1800’s, qualified immunity is a legal tool that frequently protects law enforcement from questionable use of force incidents.
The courts created the doctrine of qualified immunity years ago. It is often used by bad cops to shield themselves from liability. In simple terms, qualified immunity means that government officials can’t be held responsible for their actions unless they violated “clearly established” law. What you and I think of as a clear violation is often at odds with judges and juries.
Last year a federal appeals court ruled that a SWAT team that fired grenades into a person’s home and crated significant damages couldn’t be made to pay even though they violated the homeowner’s rights. Why not? Because the violation wasn’t clearly established.
The Civil Rights law that allows people to sue the police was passed by Congress in 1871. The courts have said that law incorporates the immunities in place back then. Obviously, the world and American society has changes greatly in the last 150 years. Unfortunately, the law hasn’t.
In the aftermath of George Floyd, courts and lawmakers have signaled a willingness to revisit the qualified immunity doctrine. Until that happens, it remains difficult to sue police officers.
Unless security guards are hired and working as government employees, they don’t enjoy the same immunities. That means that it is usually easier to sue security officers and bouncers.
Often government agencies will hire private security companies. Many guards at federal buildings and airports work for private companies. They typically don’t enjoy qualified immunity even though they are contracted by a government agency, however. Unless the guards are state or local employees, they probably don’t have immunity.
Now that we know that security guards can be sued, let’s look at what they can and can’t do.
Can a Private Security Guard Touch Me?
We frequently get asked if a private security guard can touch or grab a person. The law varies state to state but generally, guards can use the minimally necessary force needed to prevent a crime or catch a suspect.
Of course, a guard also has the right of self-defense or the right to protect a third party. The amount of force they can employ however, depends on whether the guard is protecting property or a person and the state where they are licensed or working.
Can a Security Officer Arrest Me?
In most states, security guards have the right to detain someone actively committing a crime. For example, in most states they can detain shoplifters or vandals even though they are not the police. If the person gets away, however, they generally don’t have the authority to get in vehicle pursuits. In some states, they can’t even take action off their employer’s premises.
Assuming the officer has the power to detain, they still need something more than just a hunch or suspicion that a person has engaged in wrongdoing before they act. Unfortunately, we have seen too many instances when guards get in trouble because they don’t know the law and the limits of their authority. Once again, they are not police officers and don’t enjoy qualified immunity.
On government property, security guards may have additional authority. The law varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Do Security Guards Get the Same Training as Cops?
Unfortunately, the answer is almost never. The average time a police officer must attend academy is 17 weeks. In many states, academy training is over 25 weeks. Most states also require police officers to receive 100 hours or more of additional refresher training per year.
What about security officers? Some states have no training requirements for security officers while others require minimal firearms training if armed. In Texas armed guards need just 30 hours of training while in California, they can begin work after just 10.
Unlike police officers, most guards don’t undergo rigorous psychological screening and ongoing drug testing. The results are a number of people wearing a gun and a badge that have no business to do so.
Finally, today most cops have college degrees. In most states, security officers are not even required to have a GED.
We certainly aren’t saying all cops or security officers are bad. Most are good people that try hard to do their job but a lack of screening and training is a recipe for disaster. Worse, a number of people who aren’t psychologically fit to get into law enforcement (or get fired as cops) wind up as security guards.
I Was Injured by a Security Guard, Can I Sue?
By now, you probably know the answer to this question. Yes, you can sue security guards.
Private security guards walk a fine law but they are still liable if they act unreasonably or use an unreasonable amount of force. If security guards or bouncers cause injuries and their conduct was negligent, they can be made to pay monetary damages. More importantly, the security company they work for and sometimes the customer who hired the security agency can also be held responsible.
Let’s use an example. Walmart hires Acme Security (a fictious name) to patrol the parking lot of the local Walmart store. Acme hires Brenda Smith to work the evening shift. Brenda sees some kids acting suspiciously in the back of the lot. In her zeal to sneak up on the suspects, she drives with her lights off and accidently hits one of the kids.
Not only is Brenda liable for those injuries but so is Acme. Depending on the state and facts, Walmart may also be responsible. Security companies are responsible for the actions of their workers and can also be responsible for improper training or screening. (We found an armored car guard who was a convicted felon and carrying a gun and a security officer with a suspended license (drunk driving) who was driving for the security company).
Here is another example. Lester Washington also works for our fictious Acme Security. He works the midnight shift in a bleak section of Detroit protecting a couple warehouses. Lester received the mandated 10 hour firearms training course, although he never goes to the range or receives refresher training.
Acme gives him a gun and a flashlight. Unlike a police officer, he has no radio, no chemical Mace, no Taser. At 3:00 am, he hears noises behind one of the buildings. As he approaches the sound, he hears a gunshot (gunshots are common in this neighborhood). Panicking, he draws his weapon and begins firing. He shoots a 14 year old boy. The boy didn’t have a gun, he and a friend were just lighting firecrackers.
Once again, both Acme and Lester can he held responsible.
Simple accidents, carelessness, poor training, improper screening or recklessness is enough to hold a security guard liable for monetary damages. It isn’t necessary to prove intent.
If you were injured by a security guard or bouncer, contact us immediately. In some states, victims of security guard abuse have as little as 1 year to file a lawsuit.
We and our network consider cases nationwide. No fees unless we win and collect money for you. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential. Cases limited to serious misconduct and injuries.
Act Now to Maximize Compensation & Hold the Culprits Accountable 866.836.4684