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by Ron Davis
A rattlesnake that bit a customer while the customer shopped at a Wal-Mart store in West Virginia has stirred up quite a bit of controversy.
The Wal-Mart store is located in Clarkston, and the customer had gone to the store to visit the garden center. That garden center is in an outdoor open-air location apart from the rest of the store.
As the customer was attempting to select a bag of mulch stored on a wooden pallet, he bent down to brush aside what he thought was a stick that was obscuring a price tag. The “stick,” however, was a rattlesnake, which bit him on his hand before he could take evasive actions.
The customer immediately went to a medical clinic and eventually to a hospital. There, he received appropriate care and treatment.
Afterwards, he sued Wal-Mart, accusing it of “premises liability” among other charges. In response, Wal-Mart asked the trial court to dismiss any charges associated with the claims of the customer.
Wal-Mart explained that it lacked “actual or constructive notice of any rattlesnake danger” at its store. Specifically, Wal-Mart asserted that its Clarkston store had been in operation since September, 2009, and that more than four-million customers had visited the store without such a problem as that one.
Wal-Mart also pointed out that it uses routine efforts, such as sweeping and checking the garden area, as well as hiring a company to provide monthly pest control as a safety precaution.
In response, the injured customer submitted declarations, including one from a middle-aged man who had lived in Clarkston his entire life and another from a snake expert. The middle-aged man said, “It is common knowledge that rattlesnakes are common around Clarkston, including in the immediate vicinity of the Clarkston Wal-Mart.” The snake expert added that undeveloped lots are immediately adjacent to the Wal-Mart store and could harbor rattlesnakes.
The expert also pointed out that, in his opinion, Wal-Mart could have taken certain protective steps, but did not. Such steps, he added, could have reduced the risk of a rattlesnake getting into the outdoor garden area.
The court ruled in favor of the bitten Wal-Mart customer, explaining that the outdoor garden center is in a self-service area. The judge added, “The record is undisputed that customers are permitted in the entire outdoor garden center, including the area where the customer was bitten, to gather goods they wish to purchase.”
(Mica Craig, Appellant v Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Respondent. No.33985-8-III, December, 2016 )
Decision: December 2016
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