A bouncer provides security services for a nightclub or bar. Bounces are not security officers. A security officer is someone licensed to provide security services. 

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

A bouncer may not forcibly remove an individual from the 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 requiring the use of force. 

Bouncers can perform 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 witness the crime in question. The bouncer may restrain the suspect until law enforcement arrives. The level of restraint must be reasonable.

Can the Bouncer’s Employer Be Liable?

Under the law, an employer can be liable for acts performed by their employees. For the employer to be liable, the act must be performed as part of an employee’s job duties. The act must be negligent and unintentional. 

Therefore, if the bouncer, as part of his job duties, carelessly used too much force in restraining someone at the employer’s request, the bouncer and the establishment can be liable. Here, the bouncer and employer are liable for the negligence in using unreasonable force. 

Can You Sue a Bouncer for Assault?

If a bouncer, on their own (not at an employer’s direction), assaults a patron, the bouncer and can be sued by a patron for the patron’s injuries. The patron can assert a claim of assault or battery. In such cases, the establishment cannot be sued, because the establishment did not authorize the bouncer to perform the act that caused injury. However, the establishment may be liable under a theory of negligent hiring, negligent retention, or negligent supervision. 

A lawsuit against a bouncer may not be successful for several reasons. First, the bouncer may have limited financial resources. This limits the amount of money damages you can recover.  Second, 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 will be successful.

How Can I Protect Myself as a Bouncer?

A bouncer can ensure they are working within the bounds of the law by familiarizing themselves with their employer’s policies and procedures on what they can and cannot do. A bouncer should be able to identify those situations in which force is permitted and those in which it is not. 

If the bouncer is unsure as to what they are permitted to do, they should contact the owner or management. A bouncer should also avail themselves of employer training on how to defuse potentially violent situations, with calm and without provoking anyone.

How Can an Employer Protect Themselves?

An employer can protect themselves from a lawsuit by thoroughly investigating potential hires. Investigation can consist of a background check, references request, and criminal records check, to the extent the law permits these. Establishments should not hire applicants whose background indicates they may harm a patron beyond the extent the law permits. 

Once a bouncer is hired, an establishment should thoroughly train the bouncer on what the bouncer is and is not permitted to do as part of their job. The establishment should also inform the bouncer that if they use a level of force beyond what their employment requires, the bouncer, and not the establishment, will be liable.

Do I Need a License to Be a Bouncer?

An individual does not need a license to be a bouncer. However, an individual may become a security officer by obtaining a license. The license is awarded upon completion of training and exams. A licensed security officer has legal privileges a bouncer does not. These can include (among others) the right to carry a firearm, a baton, or handcuffs. 

Do I Need Legal Help as a Bouncer or to Sue a Bouncer?

If you have been injured by a bouncer, or you are a bouncer and someone has claimed you harmed them, you should contact a personal injury attorney.  In addition, if you are an employer who is sued by a patron for a bouncer’s actions you should contact a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney near you can explain your rights and options, and can represent you in court.