A simple trip to Walmart resulted in a horrific personal injury to a customer. A shoplifter trying to escape a West Virginia Walmart knocked over a woman on his way out of the store, resulting in severe internal injuries to the victim. On March 5, a West Virginia jury awarded the woman nearly $17 million.
The Wood County trial lasted five days, but the jury deliberated just two hours before reaching a verdict. Even though the jury found the shoplifter 70 percent at fault and Walmart 30 percent, the victim’s lawyer says he believes his client will receive the entire amount.
That’s because the incident occurred in 2015 before the state legislature changed its laws on joint and several liability. Walmart is the state’s largest private employer.
Employees Attempted to Detain Shoplifter
Walmart employees were trying to detain the shoplifter as he fled the store. The man had stolen a pair of gloves. Employees retrieved the gloves, but – against company policy – brought the thief back into the store, where he broke loose and ran. As he tried to avoid his potential captors, he ran into the shopping cart of the 53-year-old victim, Diane Ankrom, whose granddaughter was in the cart.
The woman fell over, and the shopping cart fell on top of her. Ankrom later required 20 surgeries for the internal injuries suffered. The injuries in question will affect her for the rest of her life and include the use of an ileostomy bag. She also requires permanent tube feeding through her neck. The child was thrown from the cart but was apparently unharmed.
Aggressive Loss Prevention Policy Held Responsible
Walmart has long had an aggressive loss prevention policy, and the plaintiff’s attorneys argued this policy resulted in the injury. Among the evidence presented to the jury by the plaintiff’s attorneys was evidence from a whiteboard in the Walmart staff room showing how many shoplifters employees caught each month.
The lawyers demonstrated that the retail giant put profits ahead of safety, while not following recommended practices for shoplifter detention or their own official company policies. One lawyer said Walmart’s policy was to apprehend shoplifters “at all costs.”
Presumably, that policy did not include the costs of a $17 million award. Walmart holds that the shoplifter was responsible for the injuries, and are weighing their options after the verdict, including appeal.
The Largest Walmart Award
Walmart is sued regularly for premises liability injuries. Should the Ankrom award stand, it is possibly the largest such award in the company’s history. The largest award against Walmart – which is also the largest slip and fall judgment in U.S. history - that has stood is the $15 million awarded to a trucker who injured in a slip and fall accident at a Colorado store in 2007.
The victim, Holly Averyt, can no longer work and suffers from chronic pain, incontinence, and depression. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the award should stand.