It may be difficult to believe, but Walmart is sued between two and five times every day in the United States. It is sued for a variety of reasons, including slip and fall injuries, injuries from falling merchandise, false imprisonment, wrongful termination, violations of copyright laws and malpractice within the pharmacy.
The most prevalent personal injury claims can be broken down into two categories, both of which show claims of personal injury cases won against Walmart. There is one category which is more common than the other, and that is the slip and fall category.
The category of slip and fall cases is one of the most common ways for patrons of Walmart to be injured, and includes falling due to impediments in the way of the customer.
A Michigan court awarded a heart surgeon almost $4 million when he tripped and fell over a trailer hitch in 1995 in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club. The surgeon claimed there should have been a safety cone marking the trailer hitch. Consequently, the heart surgeon suffered an injury to his spinal cord, which meant he was no longer able to perform surgery, as the injury caused his hands to shake. The original verdict was more than $5 million, but was reduced because the jury believed there was comparative negligence on the part of the surgeon.
In a classic slip and fall case, a woman in Illinois recovered $117,000 when she slipped on snow and ice on a sidewalk near Walmart. She suffered back injuries, which included a herniated disc, and also received injuries to her hand and arm.
Another slip and fall case occurred in the parking lot of a Utah Sam’s Club. A woman tripped over a rod in the parking lot and later suffered from herniated discs as a result of the fall. She also needed to have some ribs removed because of additional thoracic injuries. The jury verdict was over $300,000, but the award was reduced because they assessed the plaintiff contributed to the negligence by 7 percent.
A Louisiana woman recovered almost $41,000 in 1997 after hurting her hands and knees when she tripped over concrete outside a Walmart store. The original verdict was 10 percent higher, but was reduced because of comparative negligence.
When an elderly Texas woman broke her hip while falling over a ridge near a Sam’s Club entrance ramp, she recovered a significant jury award, since the evidence showed Sam’s Club knew the surface was uneven. In 1993, the Supreme Court of Texas reversed the award of punitive damages, but affirmed the compensatory award as adjusted by the trial court. This made the award the award for compensatory damages $185,000 and the award for loss of consortium $105,000.
In another case of slip and fall, an Arkansas woman slipped on a puddle of water that was near the exit of a Walmart. She was awarded almost $21,000 to cover the costs of her medical expenses. This award was affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1991.
In a larger settlement for a slip and fall case, a Texas woman who arranged flowers for a living recovered a $400,000 award after slipping and falling on a mat at Walmart. The award was based upon the fact that she could no longer work and found it difficult to take care of herself.
After tripping on a frozen floor mat, a woman in Missouri suffered an injury to her neck. She recovered a $275,000 award. In 1996, the appeals court affirmed the award and upheld the decision of the trial court not to give instructions to the jury that corporations should get the same fair trial as a single person. Furthermore, a safety video identified the floor mats as being a big safety issue.
When a Louisiana man slipped on an unknown substance on the store’s floor, he recovered $23,000. The award was for damages as well as medical expenses, and the appeals court affirmed the award in 1998.
Another Louisiana resident slipped on water that had been tracked into the store. His award was for over $37,000, as he injured both his ankle and his knee. Walmart failed to abide by its own policy of placing more floor mats down during rainy days. This award was affirmed by the appeals court in 1997.
Rather than slipping on water or ice, a Florida woman sued Walmart when she slipped on body wash and suffered injuries to her neck after hitting her head on a shelf. In 1999, her significant award was for more than $1.3 million. The award included damages for medical expenses that would occur in the future, past loss of earnings, past pain and suffering and future pain and suffering.
A Florida woman slipped on spilled shampoo, and recovered $76,000. As she only suffered the complications of a bulging disc, her injuries were not as significant as the previous plaintiff, who injured her head and neck.
Slipping on soap-like substances seems to be particularly hazardous, as demonstrated by a California plaintiff who fractured a disc in her spine, tore cartilage in her hip and injured her knee after slipping on liquid soap. The jury awarded this plaintiff more than $800,000.
Another soap injury occurred when a Missouri woman slipped on liquid soap in an aisle at Walmart. While there was no liquid soap container found, the plaintiff recovered more than $18,000. The circuit court affirmed the award in 1998.
Another common injury at Walmart occurs when items fall on unsuspecting persons, either indoors or outdoors. Though in general Walmart alleges plaintiffs were not paying attention or were not aware of their surroundings, the courts only seem to take this into account to reduce the jury award by a small amount from the percentage assessed for comparative negligence.
A New York secretary was awarded $600,000 when ice fell on her outside a Walmart. She suffered damage to the ulnar nerve of her left dominant hand. As a result of the injury, she was no longer able to work. She alleged that the improper design of the roof led to ice falling on her, and recovered the monetary award even though Walmart employees claimed they warned her to stay inside the store after they saw the ice beginning to fall.
Ice also played a part in injury in another case in Colorado, where a man received injuries after being hit by falling ice augers inside the store. The ice augers, used to drill holes in ice, caused injuries to his head. A store employee was on a ladder trying to retrieve the box of augers for the plaintiff when the box fell. The plaintiff asserted that Walmart went against its own policy of stacking heavy boxes too high and that Walmart should have realized the danger of this, considering the significant number of incidents involving falling boxes in recent years. The plaintiff recovered more than $3 million in 1995, and his wife recovered an emotional distress award of $300,000.
In 1998, a Connecticut woman recovered more than $200,000 when she was hit in the face by an automatic door.
In Tennessee, a woman recovered $31,500 when her nose was broken by an automatic door. She alleged Walmart maintained the doors improperly, and Walmart contended she was partially responsible for her accident because she was attempting to speak with a Salvation Army employee and contributed to her injury. Her total award after calculating for her 10 percent negligence was $31,500.
In a much more severe injury case in Nevada, a member of the Air Force was hit in the head when a wall of merchandise fell on him, causing him to suffer seizures, epilepsy and impaired his ability to think. He was discharged from the Air Force because he was declared no longer mentally competent to serve.
He recovered a jury award of $4 million.
In another case where the plaintiff recovered a significant award, a 28-year-old Pennsylvania courier was injured when a piece of wood more than 16 feet long fell on him, causing nerve damage to his shoulder. After multiple surgeries, he was no longer able to return to his previous job. Walmart’s defense included claims that the accident did not occur and that the plaintiff knocked over the lumber himself, aggravating existing conditions. After the Third Circuit reduced the original jury award on appeal, the plaintiff received a new trial. The jury in the second trial awarded the plaintiff $2 million, as well as an additional $300,000 for his wife. However, the jury did reduce the award by 24 percent because of the comparative negligence of the plaintiff.
In contrast to that significant award, a 75-year-old Indiana man sustained injuries to his foot in an effort to avoid a stack of falling trunks. The plaintiff provided evidence of the permanent nature of his injuries and that he was no longer able to hunt and fish, and he recovered a jury award of $50,000. The appellate court affirmed this award in 1992.
A diagnosis of an illness following an accident can be introduced at trail. Case in point: A Missouri woman was injured after a falling overhead display caused a herniated disc and injuries to her arm, leg and hand. Her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was made after the accident and prior to the beginning of the trial. She recovered a jury award of $337,500. The appellate court affirmed the award in 1998.
A plaintiff’s award may be reduced by their comparative negligence, especially in the case where a Texas woman was hit in the head by falling paint cans. The plaintiff incurred brain damage and also had anxiety attacks following the incident. Her attorneys introduced the concept of res ipsa loquitur, meaning Walmart had control over the paint cans and that by stacking them four cans high, it was in exclusive control of the cans. Therefore, it should be held liable for improper stacking. The court dismissed the claim and reduced the jury award of almost $700,000 by 10 percent because of the plaintiff’s comparative negligence.
A Case Against Walmart Where the Plaintiff Did Not Prevail
A Florida woman sued Walmart, claiming negligence caused the injuries to her back after an ornamental pumpkin fell from a display. Prior to the trial, Walmart admitted that the reason the plaintiff was hit in the back by the ornamental pumpkin was because of negligent behavior on the part of an employee. However, Walmart claimed that all the elements needed to establish negligence were not proved. In order to establish negligence, the plaintiff needs to show all four elements that 1) there was a duty of care by the defendant to the plaintiff, 2) the breach caused the accident, 3) the defendant breached this duty and 4) the plaintiff suffered measurable damages as a result of the accident.
The jury in this case returned a verdict with no damages because they believed Walmart’s assertions that its negligence did not result in the plaintiff’s injury. Walmart provided witnesses who testified that the force from the pumpkin, which weighed only about 8 ounces, was not significant enough to cause the injury that the plaintiff received.
After the jury verdict, the trial court granted the motion of the plaintiff for a new trial so damages could be assessed for the costs of diagnosis. On appeal, the appellate court denied the plaintiff’s request for a new trial, claiming the plaintiff did not show her injury was caused by the falling pumpkin. Though the appellate court agreed that the plaintiff did seek medical attention following the accident, the costs of that medical assessment could not be awarded to the plaintiff because expert testimony showed the injuries could not have been caused by the incident.
What this case shows is that while stores do have a duty of care to provide safety for their customers, the facts of each personal injury case are so different that not every case will have all the elements needed to prove negligence.
Good News for Plaintiffs
Prior to 2003, Walmart rarely settled out of court and often forced its plaintiffs to go to trial. Since 2003 that trend has shifted, and now Walmart has had more incentive to settle out of court. A landmark case in Kentucky, Lanier v. Walmart Stores Inc., changed the burden of proof – showing Walmart did not maintain its store with safe conditions – from the plaintiff to the defendant. After Lanier, there was a rebuttable presumption established that the store must show it did provide safe conditions for the customer. In other words, if someone fell at the store after slipping on a substance that was foreign to the area, the rebuttable presumption is that the Walmart did not provide safe conditions for its customers.
For more information about your own personal injury claim, contact KBG for expert legal advice.
The personal injury attorneys at KBG Injury Law are all experienced litigators. Almost all of them represented insurance companies prior to becoming advocates for injured people, which provides them with a unique perspective and insight into how these companies operate. They also offer extensive courtroom experience if going to trial is the best legal alternative for the client.