Statute of Limitations for False Imprisonment

Black's Law Dictionary defines false imprisonment as "a restraint of a person in a bounded area without justification or consent." As a tort, the principal remedy for false imprisonment is a civil law suit, generally for monetary damages. Because there is typically a statute of limitations on actions for false imprisonment, a victim who waits too long to pursue such a claim after the false imprisonment occurs may be barred by law from pursuing the claim.

  1. Statute of Limitations

    • A statute of limitations is a law that establishes a time limit within which certain legal proceedings can be initiated. The purpose of a statute of limitations is to encourage victims of certain offenses to pursue their legal rights in a timely fashion. This not only adds a sense of predictability and finality to the law, but also makes the collection of evidence easier, as actions are pursued closer to the events in question.

    False Imprisonment by Government Agents

    • While representatives of the government, such as police officers, have legal authority to detain members of the public, they are occasionally accused of exceeding their authority, thus giving rise to false imprisonment claims. A famous Colorado case, for example, involved a woman successfully suing a police officer for false imprisonment after the officer had arrested her for failing to produce her driver's license at the officer's request.

    False Imprisonment by Private Citizens

    • Private citizens with no governmental authority to detain others are sometimes sued for false imprisonment. For example, a hostage in an armed robbery would be a victim of false imprisonment. Additionally, hospitals or mental health institutions are sometimes accused of false imprisonment in the detention of patients. A limited exception to the general false imprisonment law exists for shopkeepers and is known as the shopkeeper's privilege, which gives shopkeepers a limited right to detain suspected shoplifters for a reasonable period of time until police arrive.

    Statutes of Limitations for False Imprisonment

    • Statutes of limitations for false imprisonment claims vary by state. For example, the statute of limitations for false imprisonment in Florida is four years, while it is one year in Ohio and two years in Texas. In determining whether a lawsuit has been barred by the statute of limitations a person claiming to be a victim of false imprisonment should check the specific statute of limitations of the state in which the alleged illegal detention occurred.


    • While statutes of limitations are fairly strict, there are exceptions that sometimes are used to get around this time limit. Two of these exceptions are more likely to apply to cases of false imprisonment than the others. One is the continuation of events theory, under which the time period for the statute of limitations does not begin until the events making up the claim have ceased. For example, a person is finally released from confinement. The other is the disability exception by which a statute of limitations may be held not to apply to a person with certain disabilities, such as a mental disability.

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  • Photo Credit handcuffs image by Jorge Casais from

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