Personal Injury Law
Does a person have a tort claim if they are wrongfully detained for shoplifting in a major department store?
Perhaps; the person might have a tort claim for false imprisonment, depending on the particular factual circumstances. False imprisonment is an intentional tort that occurs when one person intentionally confines another person against his or her will. Many states, however, have shopkeepers’ privilege laws, which give merchants immunity from civil liability if they reasonably detain persons for a reasonable amount of time and if they have a reasonable belief that the person may be shoplifting. Much of this will depend on the wording of the state’s shopkeeper privilege law.
For example, Arizona’s laws provides:
A merchant, or a merchant’s agent or employee, with reasonable cause, may detain on the premises in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time any person who is suspected of shoplifting as prescribed in subsection A of this section for questioning or summoning a law enforcement officer.
Ohio’s law reads similarly:
A merchant, or an employee or agent of a merchant, who has probable cause to believe that items offered for sale by a mercantile establishment have been unlawfully taken by a person, may, for the purposes set forth in division (C) of this section, detain the person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time within the mercantile establishment or its immediate vicinity.
Both these laws require the merchants or the merchant’s employees to have some sort of reasonable belief (“reasonable cause” in Arizona and “probable cause” in Ohio) that the person is a shoplifter. Both laws also require that store employees detain the person for a reasonable amount of time.