Criminal Law Questions? Ask a Criminal Lawyer.
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I'm sorry to hear about your situation. Ultimately it would depend on whether they had "probable cause" or not. That is, the law does allow them to detain you, even if they were wrong in doing so, if they have "probable cause" that you committed a larceny (theft).
The Florida shopkeeper's immunity statute protects a merchant from a false arrest claim (a lawsuit) only when the merchant has probable cause to believe that the person detained has committed a larceny. See, e.g., Gatto v. Publix Supermarket, Inc., 387 So.2d 377, 379 n. 3 (Fla.App.1980) ("the existence of probable cause for believing that the person arrested committed larceny of the goods held for sale would insulate [the merchant] from liability"). It is not sufficient for the merchant to have probable cause to believe that someone stole his property; the statute makes clear that the merchant must have reason to believe that the person taken into custody has committed the theft. Of course, the person detained does not have to be found guilty in order for the merchant to substantiate the claim that he had probable cause for the detention. Food Fair Stores, Inc. v. Kincaid, 335 So.2d 560 (Fla.App.1976). The Florida courts have indicated that "[t]he probable cause [necessary] to support a temporary detention of a suspected shoplifter by a merchant or a merchant's employee is less than the probable cause required to support a later prosecution." Gatto, 387 So.2d at 379, n. 3.
And that's really a "question of fact" for the judge / jury to determine.
But if all that was known to the retailer is that you were walking around, etc... and there was not actually any eyewitness to you handling the item allegedly taken, etc... then it would be difficult for them to show probable cause.
And if they don't have probable cause, then that would mean that their detention of you could constitute false arrest / false imprisonment.
Since this is a tort, you could sue for any actual damages (lost wages, etc...) as well as noneconomic damages (mental anguish, pain and suffering) and seek punitive damages if the actions were grossly negligent.
Again, any success that you have in a lawsuit is going to be tied to the evidence that they had at the time that they detained you. If a jury determines that they had "probable cause", even though you did not actually steal anything, that would be a defense for them. But if they didn't have probable cause, you could sue them.
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