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Can You Sue for False Imprisonment?

By Andrew Lu on March 13, 2013 10:10 AM

If you've been held against your will by a police officer or security guard, you may be wondering whether you can sue for false imprisonment.

False imprisonment generally means that someone is unlawfully restrained against her will by someone without legal authority, consent, or other justification. False imprisonment can be both a crime and a civil wrong.

In a civil case, a person claiming false imprisonment typically seeks to recover damages for the interference with her right to move freely.

Proving False Imprisonment

False imprisonment laws vary from state to state, but generally a plaintiff will have to show the following elements to prove a claim:

  • There was a willful detention;
  • The detention was without the plaintiff's consent; and
  • The plaintiff was aware that she was being detained.

Notice that physical restraint is typically not required. Instead, false imprisonment often occurs through threats of force, false claims of authority, or actual barriers like a locked car or door.

Also, note that the victim usually must be cognizant that she is being held against her will. So if she sleeps through the ordeal and has no idea that she was ever detained, the victim may have no claim.

Possible Defenses

Not every case of involuntary confinement is false imprisonment. In many cases, a defendant may have reasonable grounds to justify the imprisonment. Some common defenses to false imprisonment can include:

  • Voluntary consent. Someone who consents to confinement, without duress, coercion, or fraud, may not later claim false imprisonment.

  • Police privilege. Police officers have the right to detain someone if they have probable cause to believe he has engaged in wrongdoing. So long as the detention is reasonable, you may not be able to sue the police for false imprisonment even though you are innocent of a crime.

  • Shopkeeper's privilege. Many states protect merchants from false imprisonment claims by allowing them to detain patrons for a brief period of time if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed theft.

If you have a question about a possible false imprisonment claim, you may want to talk to a personal injury attorney.

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