Wal-Mart Liability in Stampede Death (Civil and Criminal) (Bumped and Updated)
(Updated 12/3/08 at bottom)
The stampede at a Long Island Wal-Mart that resulted in the death of a worker yesterday was rather predictable. Every year the news cameras are out early on Thanksgiving Friday as the stores engineer crowds to come in to their stores for “door buster” bargains.
The stampedes result from lousy crowd control for which it isn’t difficult to foresee civil liability. But while the police are out looking for the stampeders, they should also be looking at Wal-Mart’s own conduct and potential charges of criminal negligence.
(original publication, 11/29)
According to CNN, two other individuals that were injured have filed a $2M lawsuit against the Nassau County Police citing poor crowd control by the police. The police claim non-existent security by Wal-Mart.
At the outset let me note that the statements in the article about a lawsuit are likely an error in reporting, since a claim against the county must be preceded by a Notice of Claim, which Notice must be filed within 90 days. The Notice forces potential litigants to state an amount of damages, whereas the lawsuit forbids stating an amount (see New York Cleans Up Claims Act).
Nevertheless, the interesting thing about the article are the statements that Wal-Mart failed to provide security for crowd control, despite the fact that such a stampede was not only predictable, but such things are often sought after by merchants for the publicity they get for their “door buster” deals on Thanksgiving Friday.
According to the article:
Lt. Kevin Smith of the Nassau County Police Department said, “it’s our policy that we don’t comment on open litigations” and would not respond directly to [plaintiffs' counsel] Mollins and his clients claim that officers left the scene.
He said it is “incumbent upon the store to provide security” but noted that there was no security force present when officers responded to an initial phone call after 3 a.m. Friday for an unknown disturbance at the site.
Smith said the officers noticed a lack of order with the crowd and began to organize them into a line, remaining on site for about 30 minutes until the crowd had become orderly.
Of course, it is not the duty of the Nassau County Police to provide crowd control on private property. That duty belongs to Wal-Mart who should have had that set up long ago. Whether the police subsequently assumed that duty by their actions is another matter, but clearly the duty in the first instance is with Wal-Mart knows well this is an issue on this particular shopping day.
If the part about Wal-Mart not having security is accurate, then they very clearly dropped the ball and endangered public safety by not having crowd control personnel on the scene. There is really no excuse for that.
(Hat tip to Overlawyered)
Update 12/4/08: Wal-Mart Stampede Victim’s Family Brings Suit
Links to this post:
wal-mart trampling suit
father and son fritz mesadieu and jonathan mesadieu say they were in the crowd during the now-notorious black friday crowd-crush episode at a long island wal-mart. they say they were left with neck and back pain for which they want > …posted by Walter Olson @ December 03, 2008 12:26 AM