Perhaps the most iconic of all the warehouse shopping club brands, Costco invites customers to search through aisles of boxes and pallets for near-wholesale deals on everything from bulk foodstuffs to electronics and pharmaceuticals. It’s beloved for its deals and notorious for its crowds of competitive bargain hunters, but not nearly as well-known as it should be for its rate of severe customer accidents.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to sue Costco for personal injury, premises liability, or for the loss of a loved one, you might be wondering whether the accident that affected you was a freak occurrence. The answer is, almost certainly not. It’s much more likely that your Costco accident was part of a pattern that warehouse stores have known about for decades and chosen to ignore.
Below, we’ll talk about why Costco accidents happen, how to sue Costco, and some of what you can expect if you do. If you’d rather speak directly to a lawyer in Georgia about your claim against Costco, reach out at any time by phone or chat.
High-Stacked Merchandise Increases the Risk of Injury to Customers Below
As a warehouse store, Costco is complete with the stories-tall shelves that practically define the “big box” business model. Therein lies much of the danger. Warehouse-style shelving is designed to maximize space efficiency in a closed environment, where everyone is a trained warehouse professional, equipped with personal safety gear, and fully focused on working together to manage the inventory in a responsible manner. This is very different from the behavior that can be expected from even the most conscientious of shoppers.
Few companies are willing to invest the necessary resources to keep their warehouses accident-free, even under controlled conditions. Not one has found a way of safely combining warehouse shelving with publicly accessible shopping spaces, and Costco is no exception.
One 62-year-old woman was struck by falling merchandise at a Costco in Florida, while she was taking a package of toilet paper off of a display. Her leg broke in two places, and she was left with a permanent limp. In her 2001 lawsuit against Costco, she was awarded over $1 million.
More recently, in 2018, a man was struck by a falling object in a Costco in Brookfield, New York. In this eerily similar case, the man, also 62 years old, was trying to take a package of paper towels from a display. However, in his case, the falling object was a steel rod, possibly a loose piece of the shelving itself. It struck him just above the left eye, causing permanent neurological damage, according to his subsequent lawsuit against Costco.
Companies like Costco want to continue using the warehouse club design for their stores, because of its space-saving financial advantages. However, as long as they do, they’ll continue to be responsible for the falling object accidents that happen as a result.
Costco Machinery Is Better Suited to Warehouse Use Than Retail
The machinery used in warehouses is another major reason why they’re such dangerous workplaces, and make completely unsuitable retail sales floors. Forklifts in particular are often underestimated as hazards because of their slow speed, but they’re involved in an estimated 85 deaths per year, as well as 34,900 serious injuries and 61,800 minor injuries. In 2013, at least one of those serious injuries was to a Costco employee, when a coworker ran over his foot. Both the driver and the victim were certified to operate the forklift, yet the accident still happened.
Given the frequency of these kinds of incidents among warehouse coworkers, it’s not hard to anticipate the dangers of introducing untrained individuals into the equation. Warehouse stores not only have employees operate forklifts in the presence of customers, they also put customers in control of smaller, less regulated machinery. In 2015, an unidentified customer allegedly crashed a motorized Costco shopping cart into another customer inside an Ohio store. The woman reported suffering leg injuries, including lacerations.
Even non-motorized warehouse machinery can cause injuries when misused. In July of 2021, another customer also reported suffering leg injuries inside a Texas Costco location, after an employee struck her from behind with a flatbed cart.
Although ordinary shopping carts can and do cause injuries sometimes, they simply don’t have the mass or power of a warehouse club cart, built for industrial capacity. As convenient as those carts can be for bulk buying, that convenience shouldn’t come at the cost of safety for the user and bystanders.
Chemicals Found at Costco Can Be Hazardous
Some of the dangers of Costco stores and other warehouse clubs are less obvious, like the hazards that come with large-scale refrigeration and freezers. In June of 2021, a refrigerant line ruptured inside a Missouri Costco, filling the store with R-22 – a gas that’s currently in the process of being phased out in the U.S, due to its dangerous environmental effects. Thankfully, the employees quickly evacuated the building and no one was killed, though two people had to be treated for breathing problems at the scene.
The employees did not understand what was happening until later, however. They had mistaken the gas clouds for smoke and pulled a fire alarm. Refrigerant leaks are dangerous enough in specialized facilities full of staff who know exactly how to identify a leak and respond, much more so in a store full of customers and employees trained for many different departments. If the occupants had assumed the clouds to be harmless condensation instead, the results could have been much worse.
Trip/Slip-and-Falls Remain One of the Most Common Types of Costco Accidents
For every strange or dramatic Costco accident that makes the news, there’s a good chance there are several more cases where someone slipped or tripped and hurt themselves on the hard concrete floor. As common and simple as these accidents are, they’re not to be taken lightly. Falls can cause severe injuries, and businesses like Costco have a duty to take all reasonable steps to keep their premises free of slipping and tripping hazards.
Reasonable measures typically include:
- Patrolling public areas regularly for hazards during business hours
- Correcting identified hazards as soon as possible
- Placing warning signs around hazards that cannot be corrected immediately
Large warehouse stores like Costco tend to fall behind in patrolling for hazards more easily than smaller stores, and too often, their customers end up paying the price.
In 2017, a man slipped while refueling at the gas pumps of a California Costco. He and his family say there was wet paint on the ground. Two years earlier, a woman reported slipping on liquid just outside the entrance of a Costco in Florida, breaking her knee.
Three years before that, a man reported a slip and fall at a Costco in Illinois, due to some spilled hummus on the floor near one of the store’s famous sample stands. He broke his leg and was awarded $125,350.88 in court.
Three more years before that, a 74-year-old woman reported slipping on what she described as a “slurpee that was all over the floor” at a Costco in Florida. Four more years before that, a Nevada man suffered a trip and fall at Costco when he tried to walk past a pallet of merchandise that was sitting in an aisle.
If you’ve been injured in a trip and fall or slip and fall at Costco, the good news is that you are not alone. The bad news is that, to Costco, your claim is just one of many. That’s why it’s so important to have a good Costco accident and injury lawyer.
Lawsuits Against Costco Require Care and Expertise
In theory, all you need to do to win a personal injury lawsuit against Costco is prove three things:
- Costco had a duty to protect you
- Costco failed in that duty
- You suffered an injury as a result of that failure
In practice, of course, the process is quite a bit more complicated than that, and Costco has the benefit of vast resources and experience defending itself as an everyday part of doing business. If there’s any room for debate, if a survivor makes a mistake, or if they can be persuaded to let the case go, Costco will do what it can to take advantage.
For example, when the woman who allegedly slipped on the slurpee in Florida sued Costco from her home in New York, Costco unsuccessfully attempted to change the venue, which would have forced the elderly woman to travel in order to pursue the case. During the proceedings, Costco also tried to withhold its own internal incident reports, but was ultimately forced to release them.
When the man slipped at the gas pumps, Costco suggested that he had slipped on a gasoline puddle of his own making, and then tried to argue that it couldn’t have been wet paint, because their painting subcontractor only worked once every 18 months. When asked to provide records of their past painting schedule, however, Costco either wouldn’t or couldn’t.
Even when someone has clearly been injured at Costco through no fault of their own, the company has sometimes been able to avoid paying. The woman who slipped and broke her knee at the entrance received nothing, because she was unable to prove that Costco knew about the liquid in time to clean it up, even though it was in a high-traffic area during business hours.
On the other hand, a good premises liability lawyer can sometimes prevail even at the most unexpected of moments. The man who tripped on the pallet in the Costco aisle, for example, lost his initial case on the grounds that the pallet was an open and obvious hazard, essentially acting as its own warning sign. On appeal, he and his counsel were able to get the case reopened, arguing that an obvious hazard does not automatically remove a landowner’s duty to prevent foreseeable accidents. The case is now studied in law schools as an example of this principle.
When you choose to sue Costco, you’ll need a premises liability lawyer who can not only prove those three basic elements of a valid case, but anticipate every possible pitfall and counter-strategy.
What to Do After a Costco Accident
The moments after a Costco accident are critical to both your physical and financial recovery. To the extent that the situation allows, immediately follow these steps:
- Assess your physical condition. If you are bleeding heavily, have spent any time unconscious, or have suffered an obvious, serious injury to the head, back, pelvis, or thigh, call for an ambulance, or have someone do this for you. If not, make your own arrangements for a medical examination as soon as possible.
- Take pictures of the accident site and hazards, or have someone do this for you, preferably before cleanup occurs.
- Exchange contact information with witnesses.
- Report the accident to Costco, either in person or by email in a timely manner, but do not speculate on fault or answer follow up questions.
- Once you have completed all steps you plan to perform in the store, leave. Do not continue shopping.
- Obtain qualified legal representation.
The attorneys at The Stoddard Firm have extensive experience taking on warehouse store companies like Costco on behalf of injured customers. From the moment we start working with you, we’ll protect and build up your case, preserving evidence before it can be destroyed, dealing with Costco’s claims department on your behalf, and guiding you past all possible missteps. We also handle wrongful death cases and can help if you’ve lost a loved one to a Costco accident.
To discuss your case with a Costco accident and injury lawyer in Georgia, give us a call at 678-RESULT, or reach out through our online chat function for a free consultation.