TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Southwestern Law School

Monday, December 1, 2008

Civil Liability for Wal-Mart Worker Death?

Eric Turkewitz has brief thoughts.


(Forgive the delayed posting; let's just say that I spent a lot more time in the Philly airport yesterday than is desirable.)

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People are crazy in general yes. But I also think Wal-Mart has the worse organization skills ever. For example, I always stand in line to buy the new video game systems, and did so for Playstation 3 in Nov. 2006. We showed up at 4:00 a.m. in the Wal-Mart parking lot and the systems wouldn’t go on sale until Midnight of that day. People kept coming, and the crowd got bigger. The 24 hour Wal-Mart, wouldn’t let anyone get in line for the Playstation 3 until 7 a.m., why, we have no idea. But what did everyone do? We’ll… we formed a line to get in line of course. The crowd kept getting bigger. I would say at around 6:40ish, a manager came out and explained the situation.

“We will have 10 systems for sale.”

That’s not a surprise, when systems come out, a store like Wal-Mart, Target, Shopko, etc, get on average 8-12 of the systems, depending on the city. He then explained they have 10 chairs lined up next to the flag pole, and, at 7 a.m. we could “get in line by sitting in one of the ten chairs.” The crowd kept getting bigger. I’d say we are now have at least 100 plus people. We all knew how stupid this was. 100 plus people were standing in a line outside, a line that was the length of the store, and perpendicular to the 10 chairs near the flag pole. The person closes to the chairs was probably 30 feet from them. (Just FYI, if they would’ve allowed a line to form from the beginning, none of this would have happened)

Everyone knew we had to run for a chair. Half the people there knew they wouldn’t be able to run for a chair based on how far they were from the set of chairs or how fast they could run. But the other half knew they had a chance.

Okay, but I’m straying from my point. Wal-Mart is by far the most organzingly challenged corporation ever. New systems come out every so many years. They should know to let people just start the line, a first come first service basis, hand out number or draw numbers. This was 24 hour Wal-Mart, and the year before when the Xbox 360 came out, they let people sit in line, INSIDE, at the electronics department. What was wrong with that?! No one got hurt.

So, at 6:58 a.m. the stores manager said, “No pushing, no shoving, no fighting. We have the cameras on and if any of you cause any trouble, we will know and you will not be given your Playstation 3.” There was one cop there to maintain order. 7:00 a.m. we got the command… “Okay, get in line.”

Everyone ran. I was among them. I didn’t think people would fall or get shoved. I was only thinking to get a seat. And being a pretty agile guy, I didn’t think I would get knocked down or pushed. I say this because no one planned on hurting anyone. Everyone was really excited and anxious, but if you asked any individual if they planned on hurting someone, I believe no one would say yes. It was a simple race to the chairs.

So anyways, 100 people converging to a single point certainly caused a problem. One person was stopped suddenly when his face met that flag pole I had mentioned that was by the chairs. The whole 100 people converging (at a sprinting pace) to a single point is what caused the pain. People fell, people behind us couldn’t see that people had fallen, but the momentum kept pushing us forward. If you stopped, you would fall, so just keep your feet moving. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I found myself stepping over people as well. I definitely didn’t see this as a life and death situation, as I’m sure those people at the Wal-Mart in Long Island thought the same thing. But people were getting hurt. For the most part, everyone was okay. That one kid was pushed into the flag pole, probably with incredible force. I just remember the aftermath; people moaning as they slowly stood up from a tangled mess of bodies. The one kid, in his early twenties, his eyes tearing up, and blood on his red face from his meeting with the flag pole.

All I’m saying is that all this could be avoided. People like deals, they like low prices and they like getting up early for them. Who cares? But fricken Wal-Mart needs to use some fricken common sense. I think that Wal-Mart should be held responsible for the death of that young man. No one else. People there didn’t know what was going on; they just wanted to get their holiday presents. Wal-Mart knew what was going to happen, or they should’ve known by now!

What makes me disgusted with Wal-Mart even more is they completely lied and denied the whole event concerning the Playstation 3’s, even with a police report that contradicted them:

Mike Dooley, the store's manager, said in a phone interview Thursday morning that there was no race and that the chairs were put outside for the convenience of the shoppers, some of whom he said had been standing outside for a long time. Later in the day he declined to comment further about the incident, and an assistant manager at the store referred questions to Wal-Mart's corporate relations department. –from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

To read about the PS3 incident in Wisconsin, follow this link:

That’s all I wanted to share. I blame Wal-Mart. They had the most power to prevent this.

Posted by: Davo | Dec 1, 2008 12:55:06 PM

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