Shopkeepers have a qualified privilege against a false imprisonment claim. As long as a shopkeeper has a reasonable belief that a customer is shoplifting and uses reasonable means of restraint for a reasonable time, the shopkeeper may avoid liability. This is the law's attempt to balance the individual interest in personal freedom and the shopkeeper's legitimate right to avoid merchandise walking out of his store.
During Black Friday weekend, a couple of WalMart employees and a security guard confronted a customer in the parking lot after concluding that the customer was stealing two DVD players. The customer ended up dead. Certainly, there are more facts to this story yet to be disclosed. But this is the kind of tragic incident that the shopkeeper's privilege is designed to prevent. "Reasonableness" in all areas of conduct is the required standard.
When a Walgreen Pharmacy assistant manager believed that a teenager had stolen a pack of condoms, she called the East Hartford, Conn. police department. The responding officer conducted a strip search of the 18-year-old male suspect in the men's room. Reasonable conduct? Not likely.
WalMart spokesperson says that no amount of merchandise is worth someone's life: