Security Guards and Civil Suits: Here’s How These Common Lawsuits Work

Posted on June 15, 2023 by El Dorado

Civil suits – and their associated court processes – are a way to file a legal complaint against another party, holding them liable for something they did. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they broke a law, but a civil lawsuit attempts to show that the other party was at fault and owes something, often a fine or payment for damages. These kinds of lawsuits are common in cases involving injuries, property damage, defamation, and similar problems.

All those qualities can make civil suits a particularly common encounter for security guard companies. If you face a lawsuit in civil court based on what one of your security guards did, here are a few points well worth knowing.

Some Guard Actions Are Far More Likely to Lead to Civil Suits

When do people file civil suits against security guard firms? Anyone can file a civil suit if they’re willing to spend the time and money to do it. But certain incidents lead to a much higher risk of civil lawsuits than others, especially in tense situations involving angry people. Common types of civil suits against security guards include:

  • Negligence: These are types of personal injury lawsuits that claim a guard caused injury. That could be because of carelessness in something they did, like restraining someone or throwing someone to the ground while moving. Or a person may claim that a guard was hired to protect them but didn’t fulfill their duties, resulting in injury.
  • Assault and battery: This type of civil suit alleges injury from the direct actions of a security. If guards put someone in a chokehold or slammed them against a wall, for example, this could lead to a civil suit regarding injuries, especially if a hold was against a state’s guidelines for security guard licensing.
  • False imprisonment or arrest: If a security guard contains a person in a specific space – like sending them to a back room to “cool down” – then they could be open to a lawsuit for false imprisonment, an area the law tends to take seriously. Similarly, if they attempt to arrest someone the same way a police officer would, it could lead to a lawsuit for false arrest.
  • Defamation: Suits for defamation aren’t quite as common, but in some cases, people may claim that their reputation was harmed by being detained by a security guard in public.

Keep in mind, people may also pursue civil suits alongside criminal charges, which can happen with serious incidents like sexual assault or wrongful death.

Security Firms Can Face Vicarious Liability

Security firms may wonder if they can be targeted in a civil lawsuit if they aren’t responsible for the damage or injuries mentioned in the suit. What if the firm has regulations specifically prohibiting things that occurred?

In most cases, security firms do face vicarious liability for the actions of their security guards. That means they can be fairly targeted in a civil suit and may face resulting payments or fees. This type of liability happens because security firms are expected to properly vet and train security guards, and because guards are assumed to be representing their company to an extent.

Evidence, Such as Camera Footage, Can Prove Reasonable Acts

If a civil suit goes to court, firms can use evidence to argue that everything their security guard did was a reasonable act and that the claims mentioned above don’t apply. Camera footage of incidents in areas like retail stores is especially important in these cases, which is one reason guards and security cams make such an effective pairing.

Small Claims Cases Will Limit Maximum Amounts People Can Sue For

Small claims are a type of civil court for lawsuits under a certain amount. Small claims are common for civil suits where it’s difficult to prove any illegal act occurred, but claimants still believe they are owed money for damages. The limits on small claims vary greatly between states: California sets its own at $5,000 for businesses, while Texas small claims top out at $20,000 for people or businesses.

Settling is An Option for Civil Suits

As with many other lawsuits, settling for a specific sum of money and/or other actions is a possibility for civil suits, and a common way to resolve them. Security firms need to weigh how much it would cost to argue the suit in court, how much their liability insurance would pay for, and how much they may end up being ordered to pay. If the total costs are much higher than the potential settlement, it may be worthwhile to sue.

If a firm believes they were entirely in the right, it will still need to hire an attorney and provide evidence. An attorney can represent the firm and let the claimant’s attorney know what kind of evidence they have to present in court in an effort to encourage the claimant to withdraw the suit instead of asking for a settlement.


Civil suits can be time-consuming, costly, and result from all kinds of security guard incidents. That’s why it’s so important for firms of all sizes to have the right kind of security guard liability insurance, and practice good documentation so they have sources of evidence if they ever need to go to court.

Source: El Dorado Insurance Agency, Inc.

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