August 11, 2015- Richmond, VA
Philip Whitaker III, age 64, died Sunday afternoon after sustaining a serious head injury during an altercation with a Virginia Commonwealth University security guard.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Mr. Whitaker was picking up a prescription at the University’s Ambulatory Care Center Pharmacy on Friday afternoon, when a disagreement with a security guard over whether it was Whitaker’s turn to approach the pharmacy window led to a physical confrontation. Police have not released the name of the security firm employed by VCU at the Ambulatory Care Center Pharmacy, but did inform the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the guard in question is expected to face criminal charges.
Generally speaking, security guards and bouncers have a duty to maintain a reasonably safe environment and perform their duties in a reasonable manner. When that duty is breached, resulting in injury or damage to others, guards may be liable for negligence regardless of their intent. So while security guards and bouncers in most jurisdictions are entitled to use force to maintain order, the amount of force must be reasonable.
Because physical force is often a job component for security personnel, guards may run a higher risk of committing intentional torts while on-the-job. Intentional torts differ from negligent torts in that intentional torts are committed on purpose.
Assault and battery are two types of intentional torts often alleged against security personnel. Assault, which does not require physical touching, occurs when a guard puts a patron in apprehension of imminent physical harm. Battery, on the other hand, occurs when physical contact is made. Liability for assault and battery is typically triggered when a guard’s threat of violence or actual violence exceeds the amount of force reasonably necessary to restore order.
Guards are typically employed by the venue for which they provide security. In this case however, it appears that the guard in question was not an employee of VCU – rather, the guard was an employee of a security firm hired by VCU at the time of the incident.
So while employers can be held liable for the harmful actions of the security personnel they employ, determining which (if any) ‘employer’ in this case may be liable for Mr. Whitaker’s death will be particularly complex.