A bouncer is a person who is hired, either as a bar bouncer or a club bouncer, to provide security services for the bar or nightclub. Bouncers are not security officers. A security officer is a person who is licensed to provide security services. 

What are Bouncers Legally Allowed to Do?

Bouncers without a special license are regular employees of the establishment for which they work. As employees of an employer establishment, bouncers are subject to the ordinary legal rules regarding the use of force and the use of restraint or detention. The ordinary rules regarding the use of force require that force may be used only in self-defense. The level of force used in self-defense can be no more than is necessary to respond to an individual’s use of or threat of force. 

False imprisonment or illegal restraint are crimes, so a bouncer is not allowed to restrain a person who is a patron of the establishment that employs the bouncer, unless the bouncer is making a citizen’s arrest.

What are Bouncers Not Legally Allowed to Do?

A bouncer may not forcibly remove an individual from a public establishment. Rather, they must call the police to do so. In addition, patron behavior that an ordinary person would simply find irritating or annoying, does not constitute a threat that would justify the use of force. 

Bouncers can perform only those job tasks permitted by law. These include:

  • Asking an individual to leave the establishment;
  • Refusing to allow a patron who appears to be visibly intoxicated to enter the establishment; and
  • Detaining an individual who is in the process of committing a crime. This right to detain is called the right to make a citizen’s arrest. In order to make a citizen’s arrest, a bouncer must personally witness the crime in question. The bouncer may restrain the suspect until law enforcement arrives. The level of restraint must be reasonable.

If a bouncer were to restrain a person without the justification of citizen’s arrest, they could make themselves liable for false imprisonment. If a person who is a patron is restrained and it is not justified, then the patron can sue the bouncer for the civil wrong of false imprisonment.

A bouncer could be civilly liable for false imprisonment if they: 

  • Said words or committed acts with the intent to confine the victim;
  • The victim was actually confined for some period of time; and
  • The victim was aware that they were being confined.

False imprisonment is referred to as unlawful restraint in some states, but the essential elements of this civil wrong are essentially the same:

  • Detention: Unlawful restraint always involves a detention of a person and the detention must be intentional. False imprisonment cannot be committed by accident. The bouncer would have to intend for their actions to result in the confinement of the patron. 
    • However, there is no requirement that the patron was physically placed in a room, a secure building, or other confined area. It is sufficient that the patron believed they were restrained from leaving the area in which the detention took place. So the detention could have resulted from a verbal order, false representations, or actual physical restraint such as handcuffing. Violence or the threat of violence may also be used to effect detention. If force is threatened and the patron had a reasonable apprehension or fear of the threatened use of force, then that is sufficient to establish the detention. It might also qualify as civil assault.
  • Unlawful: You cannot unlawfully restrain someone if you have the legal authority to detain the person. However, it is up to a court to determine lawfulness. So, if a person restrains someone believing that they have the legal authority to do so, and a court later determines that they did not have that authority, they can be convicted of unlawful restraint or sued for civil liability for false imprisonment;.
  • Duration of the Restraint: There is no minimum time requirement for a restraint to be  unlawful. A confinement of even a few moments can be enough to qualify as an unlawful restraint.
  • Consent: The patron must have been an unwilling participant. For example, if the bouncer asked the patron to accompany the bouncer to a back office or security area, there is no false imprisonment if the patron agreed to accompany the bouncer voluntarily;
  • Escape: The detention involved in unlawful restraint must be complete, meaning the patron was not able to leave. For example, a person who can leave a confined area by simply opening a door or walking away is not confined. However, the patron must have been aware of the reasonable manner of escape and must have been capable of acting. So, if the patron believed that walking away would result in violence or harm because of threatened violence, that can be enough to make the detention total even if there was an avenue of escape.

I was Assaulted By a Bouncer. What Should I Do?

If a bouncer, on their own (not at an employer’s direction), assaults a person who is a patron of a bar or club, the bouncer can be sued by the patron for the patron’s injuries. The patron can assert a claim of civil assault or battery. It might also be possible to sue the establishment that employs the bouncer on a theory of negligent hiring, negligent retention, or negligent supervision. The patron could also report the incident to the police for criminal prosecution as assault and battery.

A lawsuit against a bouncer may not be worth the effort and expense of a lawsuit for several reasons. First, the bouncer may have limited financial resources. This would limit the amount of money damages that a person could recover.  

Secondly, in a lawsuit against a bouncer, the bouncer may claim they were acting in self-defense. If a bouncer can show that the force they applied was reasonable and proportional under the circumstances, the bouncer’s self-defense claim might be successful.

Success in any case depends on the circumstances of the situation that led to the assault and/or battery. And,of course, the urgency of proceeding depends on the extent of a person’s injuries. A person who has been assaulted or battered by a bouncer should consult an experienced personal injury attorney for a review of the facts of their case. 

An experienced personal injury attorney can advise the person as to whether a lawsuit would be worthwhile and whether the person could expect to recover an award of damages from the defendant bouncer. An experienced personal injury attorney would also be able to assess the possibility of suing the establishment that employs the bouncer for negligent hiring, negligent retention or negligent supervision of the bouncer. 

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Claim Involving Bouncers?

If you have been injured by a bouncer, you should contact a personal injury attorney.  An experienced personal injury attorney near you can review all of the facts of your situation and advise you as to whether you could realistically expect to succeed with a lawsuit against the bouncer or the establishment that employs the bouncer. They can explain your rights and options, and can represent you in court if you should decide to proceed with a lawsuit for damages.