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Shoplifter Statute Not License to Beat Suspected Shoplifters
Description Suspected shoplifter alleged she was beaten while held in the back of a store for an hour before turned over to police. Virginia supreme court held that state statute protecting merchants from tort action for detaining shoplifters does not extend to willful torts.
Topic Torts
Key Words Shoplifter, Immunity
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Carlotta Jury was waiting to check out from a Giant grocery store in Virginia when an unidentified security guard grabbed her arm and told her to come with him. When she resisted, he struck her, causing her to fall down. She was pulled to the back of the store. She claimed she was held there for an hour, while her children waited in her car, during which time she was physically abused. She was handcuffed and turned over to the police. After her release, she was treated at a hospital. She sued for assault and battery, negligence, and emotional distress.
Trial Court Decision Suit dismissed because 18.2-105 of the Virginia code limits liability for merchants who detain persons when the merchant had "probable cause to believe that the person had shoplifted." Jury appealed.
Supreme Court Decision Reversed and remanded. "Construing the statute to provide absolute immunity as the trial court has done ... requires the conclusion that the General Assembly intended to shield a merchant, its agents or employees, from any and all types of assaults and batteries." Immunity does not apply when "the tort is committed in a willful, wanton or otherwise unreasonable or excessive manner."
Citation Jury v. Giant of Maryland, ---S.E.2d--- (1997 WL 580727, Sup. Ct., Va.)

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