In spring of 2018, a two-year-old girl was crushed to death by an unsecured mirror in a Payless shoe store in Riverdale, Georgia. This might sound like a freak occurrence, but the truth is that incidents like this one have been a serious and underreported public hazard for decades now.
Nobody wants or expects to put themselves in danger every time they go shopping. We go about our days, running our errands, rarely worrying about whether public places are designed to be safe. In reality, serious danger lies in many core elements of how modern “big box” stores do business.
High, Unsecured Shelving
The profitability of big box stores depends on volume, selection, and efficient use of space. In many cases, this means shelving in public areas may be over 20 feet high and overburdened with heavy merchandise. In spite of the many injuries this causes to customers, retailers refuse to phase out this money-saving business model.
Forklift Usage While Customers Are Present
Many big box stores are built around a warehouse aesthetic, instead of the image of a polished retail space. Lots of consumers welcome this look, along with its promise of wholesale values. However, this acceptance of a more “naked” store appearance has made forklift use in the presence of customers seem more acceptable as well. Even with safety precautions, forklift accidents during business hours have contributed to countless tragedies, including the death of a three-year-old in an Idaho Home Depot.
Most retailer safety regulations are geared toward employee safety, or consumer safety while using the retailer’s products. While these are both important issues, customer safety during the shopping process is just as important, and tends to slip through the cracks. OSHA does not keep records of customer injuries, and settlements for these injuries often include confidentiality agreements, making it difficult to gather accurate safety statistics.
An examination of court records reported by the LA Times found that falling merchandise in Walmart stores was responsible for about 26,000 customer claims and 7,000 employee injuries from 1989-1995. Meanwhile, Home Depot was receiving an average of 185 injury claims a week as of 1998, many for falling merchandise.
A similar report by the San Francisco Chronicle notes that stores have since implemented policies of securing merchandise on upper shelves and blocking access to aisles where forklifts are active. The report goes on to note, however, that these policies have been unevenly implemented, or simply inadequate to prevent the many deaths that have followed.
One Thing Is Clear:
Retailers are responsible for any injuries their negligence may cause to customers, even if preventative policies and record keeping are not what they should be.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a big box store, give us a call or contact us online for a free consultation. We’ve helped lots of people get the compensation they need to put them on the road to recovery.