Wrongfully & Falsely Arrested by a Store in Florida

Florida wrongful arrests typically occur when a store employee such as a security guard, loss prevention officer, or store owner holds a customer against their will because they think the customer committed a crime in their store. Imagine shopping at a store, and then moments later being manhandled as you try to leave. These actions can leave a person with mental and physical injuries, and wondering if they can sue for damages.


Recently, a Tampa woman has sued Walmart for wrongful arrest. She was physically detained while she was walking out of the store. Video surveillance shows the woman being grabbed and dragged back into Walmart by two men. The security guard claimed that she was being arrested for shoplifting. However, Florida wrongful arrest lawyer Barry Cohen points to the security tape to show that the security guard dropped something on the floor and then accused the woman for stealing that item. The lawsuit claims the woman is suffering physical and emotional injuries from the incident.

CVS is also being sued in Florida for the wrongful arrest of a mother of four. The woman claims a CVS loss prevention officer falsely arrested her in the back of the store for hours, and then offered her freedom in exchange for sexual favors. A Florida personal injury lawyer has taken the case and is now suing CVS for more than $1 million for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision and vicarious liability.


Wrongful arrest, also known as false arrest or false imprisonment, is the unlawful restraint of an individual’s personal liberty or freedom of movement. The purpose of wrongful arrest laws is to protect people from being unlawfully detained without proper legal authority. People who have been harmed by a wrongful arrest can file a personal injury claim against those who are responsible.


According to Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal, the essential elements of a cause action for false imprisonment have been stated in various way by Florida courts, but all have agreed that the elements include:

  1. “The unlawful detention and deprivation of liberty of a person
  2. against that person’s will
  3. without legal authority or color of authority and
  4. which is unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances.”

Florida Supreme Court has held that for a defendant to be liable in a wrongful arrest case, the defendant must have been personally and actively participating – either directly or by indirect procurement. Indirect procurement meaning, a defendant took an active role in encouraging or securing the wrongful arrest. However, when a private citizen or business merely provides information to the authorities, this does not create a cause of action for wrongful arrest, according to Florida’s 4th DCA.


Florida stores often accuse and detain people they believe have committed theft. Florida statute 812.015 defines retail theft but also contains an immunity provision for store merchants.

This provision gives store merchants the authority to take a shoplifter into custody, but only if the store has probable cause to believe a shoplifting occurred, and if the purpose is for attempting to recover the stolen merchandise or for prosecution. This creates a defense for stores when they are sued for wrongful arrest. However, according to the statute, the store can only detain the offender in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time. Additionally, a law enforcement officer must be called to the scene immediately after the person has been taken into custody.

Therefore, Florida stores can be subject to wrongful arrest lawsuits if:


There is not an exact amount of time or a reasonable manner test courts apply when determining a wrongful arrest case. Reasonableness hinges on the particular facts of the case. In Jefferson Stores, Inc. v. Caudell, a woman brought a lawsuit against a store owner for false imprisonment, assault, battery, and personal injuries. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the woman, and the store owner appealed arguing that the trial court erred when denying their motion for summary judgment and motion for directed verdict.

Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal disagreed and found that the issues presented to the jury were proper, because it was up to the jury to decide whether the store’s stop was reasonable under the circumstances.

In this case, the woman was shopping at the store when she accidentally forgot to pay for one of her items – a keychain. Right when she stepped outside of the store, a man grabbed and pulled her around. She felt an immediate pain shooting down both of her legs. Two men who were the store’s security guards, brought her back into the store. They would not let her leave until she signed a shoplifting release form – which would not sign.

Under these facts, the court determined that the store may have had probable cause to stop her, but whether the stop was performed in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time was a question for a jury.


People who are victims of wrongful arrests may suffer from physical and psychological injuries. Victims may be awarded damages for mental injuries such embarrassment, anxiety and damage to reputation. Also, damages may be awarded for any physical injury that happened during the wrongful arrest. It is extremely important to contact a Florida wrongful arrest lawyer if you believe you have been subject to a wrongful arrest, false arrest or false imprisonment.

Florida Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

It is common for people to lend their cars out to their children, relatives, or even friends. But when doing so, people often don’t realize the potential liability they can face under Florida law. Florida follows a common law doctrine called Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine. This doctrine states that an owner of a vehicle can be held liable for a third party’s damages as a result of a car accident caused by the negligence of the person who borrowed the vehicle.


The dangerous instrumentality doctrine originally applied to only tools that were thought of as inherently dangerous. As such, an owner of a dangerous tool would be held liable for any injuries caused by that “tool.” In 1920, the Florida Supreme Court found that motor vehicles were inherently dangerous for the purposes of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.

Therefore, the doctrine essentially imposes strict vicarious liability on to vehicle owners who entrust their car or truck to a person who negligently causes an auto accident. Because the doctrine applies strict liability, the vehicle owner has absolute legal responsibility without requiring the plaintiff to show that the owner acted carelessly or negligently when lending his car. To hold the owner labile, the car accident victim must show that the owner of the vehicle gave permission to the at-fault party who caused the accident. This permission can be expressed or implied.

Moreover, a plaintiff must show that the car owner had a property interest in the vehicle to hold the owner liable. In Aurbach v. Gallina, the Florida Supreme Court established three elements to determine such property interest. The court stated that the owner must:

  1. own and control who drives the vehicle;
  2.  rent the vehicle for use; and/or
  3. has more than bare legal title to the vehicle.

The Florida courts, over the years, have also found situations where the doctrine does not apply. Some of these situations include: when the vehicle is operated through theft or conversion, or when a car owner leaves his or her vehicle with a repairman who negligently causes an accident.

If a car owner is found liable under the doctrine, the Florida Legislature has provided some protection with regard to their financial liability.

Florida has enacted a cap on damages which limit how much a car owner can be held financial responsible for entrusting their vehicle to a negligent driver. The cap is found in Florida Statute 324.021, which states:

“The owner who is a natural person and loans a motor vehicle to any permissive user shall be liable for the operation of the vehicle or the acts of the operator in connection therewith only up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage. If the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle. The additional specified liability of the owner for economic damages shall be reduced by amounts actually recovered from the permissive user and from any insurance or self-insurance covering the permissive user. Nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to affect the liability of the owner for his or her own negligence.”

As you can see, it is extremely important to think twice before lending out your vehicle. Even if you think the person is a safe and responsible driver, because accidents inevitably happen, and you may be held legally responsible.