If you were to watch television to get a better understanding of how the law applies to security guards and bouncers, you may come away with the impression that in a bar or club setting, these employees have carte blanche to do as they please in the handling of unruly patrons.
Although the civil law permits a bit of leeway, a shadow of a tort litigation resides over them and their employers. To what extent a security guard or bouncer may be physical with a patron, without incurring civil liability, is the topic of this discussion.
How a Negligent Act Could Incur Security Guard Liability
Most negligence claims are concerned with the issue of the reasonableness of a defendant. A security guard or bouncer, just like everyone else, has a duty to carry out their responsibilities with reasonable care.
Yet, reasonable care is construed a bit more broadly for security guards and bouncers. For these employees, to protect the owner’s property and other patrons, it is reasonable to use minimal force to eject unruly guests.
Whoa Big Fella
However, the figurative line for permissive force is drawn at reasonable.
For example, a bouncer or security guard may grab an unruly guest by the arm and lead him or her to the exit (if you have spent a little time in a casino, you may have seen this), but if the bouncer or security guard were to take the guest outside and toss him into oncoming traffic (this is hypothetical, I have met more than a dozen security personnel throughout the Las Vegas Valley, and not a one showed any inclination toward this kind of behavior), assuming the guest suffered harm, this could be construed as negligence.
The bouncer or security guard’s behavior was reasonable up until they got to the door, after that, the behavior could be negligent.
It is easy to see how throwing an unruly patron into traffic is unreasonable, but in the real world, it is difficult to project exactly where the margin is between reasonable and unreasonable force.
How an Intentional Tort Could Incur Security Guard Liability
An intentional tort, like assault and battery, is a harm committed purposefully (as opposed to a harm caused by the lack of due care). Assault is placing another person in immediate apprehension of impending physical harm. Essentially, it is a physical threat that a reasonable person would take seriously.
An assault becomes a battery once there is unwanted, physical contact.
Since bouncers and security guards are permitted to use minimal force to execute their job responsibilities, the question of if an intentional tort occurred will focus on the degree of force applied by the bouncer or security guard is reasonably necessary.
For example, grabbing an unruly patron by the arm may not be a tort, but knocking the same patron unconscious may be seen as unreasonable and therefore, battery.
Many nightclubs carry insurance that to protect against lawsuits brought by patrons based on the actions of the nightclub employees. Some of the policies have an “assault and battery” clause that protects the insurance company from having to pay assault and battery claims brought against the insured employer.
In turn, the best means of recovering damages may be through a negligence claim. Our attorneys can answer any other questions you have regarding security guard liability.