False Imprisonment

Andrew Sullivan attorney

The act of unlawfully detaining someone against their will is known as false imprisonment. Attorneys at Clawson and Staubes represent both plaintiffs and defendants in cases concerning allegations of false imprisonment. If you have been unlawfully detained against your will or you or your business has been accused of detaining someone against their will, our attorneys have the experience and skills necessary to assist with your claim.

To establish a cause of action for false imprisonment, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) defendant restrained the plaintiff; (2) the restraint was intentional; and (3) the restraint was unlawful. The detention must be against the plaintiff’s will. If the plaintiff consented, there will be no viable false imprisonment action. The defendant need not intend to falsely imprison the plaintiff to be held responsible for this conduct. Rather, the defendant simply needs to intend to cause the unlawful confinement of the plaintiff. In other words, the defendant can be held responsible for false imprisonment even if there was no ill-will or malice in restraining the plaintiff.

False imprisonment can occur in a variety of ways. Such claims can include wrongful arrest, false arrest, kidnapping, or generally improperly restraining or detaining someone. A false imprisonment claim can arise from being wrongfully arrested or detained by law enforcement without probable cause. However, a false imprisonment claim may not involve the police at all. Many cases of false imprisonment occur in retail stores when people are suspected of shoplifting. Imagine, for example, that you are shopping for a new outfit at your favorite store, when a security staff member confronts you, accuses you of theft without reasonable cause, and requires that you go into a room within the store to discuss the matter. If the security staff implies that you are not free to leave the store for an unreasonable amount of time, even if he or she does not physically arrest or restrain you, this may give rise to a false imprisonment claim.

Thus, false imprisonment claims can arise from a number of different scenarios, such as allegations of:

  • Unlawful detention or restraint by security guards or loss prevention staff in retail stores, big-box stores, department stores, and movie theaters;
  • Unlawful detention or restraint by private security personnel, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and other law enforcement personnel.

There are several defenses to false imprisonment claims. Consent is the most obvious of the defenses. If the plaintiff consented to the confinement, he or she cannot claim false imprisonment. Additionally, if someone is restrained by someone with the lawful authority to do so, an action for false imprisonment cannot be maintained. Law enforcement officials have broad authorization to arrest and detain. If there is probable cause or a proper warrant for an arrest, a false imprisonment action will not likely be successful. Lastly, in South Carolina, a store or merchant may not be liable for false imprisonment if it wrongfully accuses a customer of shoplifting, but had reasonable cause to believe the customer shoplifted and questioned the customer about the issue for a reasonable amount of time. S.C. Code. § 16-13-140. While the law gives stores the right to conduct reasonable investigations to determine whether shoplifting has occurred, the law does not provide an absolute defense such that stores can accuse customers of shoplifting without the reasonable cause to do so, detain customers for unreasonable lengths of time, or physically manhandle customers for any reason.

In a suit for false imprisonment, the basic injury is the deprivation of the plaintiff’s liberty by virtue of the fact that he or she was restrained against his or her will. This is the only injury necessary to bring a false imprisonment claim. Other damages may include emotional trauma, physical injury, pain and suffering, humiliation, and damage to reputation. Punitive damages may also be awarded in certain cases to punish the defendant for irresponsible and reckless conduct.

This area of law can be complex and difficult to navigate. Clawson and Staubes has extensive experience in representing both plaintiffs and defendants in false imprisonment cases and is here to assist you with your claim. Whether you are a plaintiff or defendant, it is crucial that you contact an attorney in a timely manner to ensure that all relevant evidence is preserved and that a prompt investigation is conducted. Please contact Clawson and Staubes if you believe you have been falsely imprisoned or you are being accused of false imprisonment.

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