“False imprisonment” may conjure up images of the Lindbergh kidnapping, but it is in fact a much more common basis for a tort liability claim. In California, false imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of another person’s liberty. As technical as this sounds, false imprisonment in fact can happen in many common situations. False imprisonment can of course occur by such outrageous acts as kidnapping, but also can occur by the simple act of blocking a door and precluding somebody from leaving the room when they want to. A California case, Scofield v. Critical Air Medicine, Inc. , recently held that false imprisonment may occur by fraud or trickery, such as when an air transport service tricked an accident victim into getting into an airplane based on the false representation that the service had been authorized to pick up the victim for medical treatment. Even though the victim eventually got to where he was supposed to go without ever learning of the deceit, a false imprisonment claim was successfully made against the air transport service. The victim does not need to know of the imprisonment while it is occurring, such as occurs when the victim is tricked into getting into a vehicle, or when the victim does not realize that the restraint on his or her mobility is wrongful, or when the victim is unconscious. Finally, the victim does not have to have any minimum amount of damage to make a false imprisonment claim.
Under these circumstances, at least in California , false imprisonment claims can be asserted in a wide variety of factual circumstances, regardless of whether a plaintiff expressly asserts a cause of action labeled “false imprisonment.” If a lawsuit involves facts that potentially give rise to false imprisonment claims, it may be within the potential coverage of a homeowner’s or other insurance policy, and the insurance company may be required to defend the insured or pay for any liability or settlement.