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Even Wal-Mart Can’t Stop the Rain
by Ron Davis
A challenge by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., to a charge of negligence in its construction of a Mobile, AL, shopping center has proved successful.
The challenge occurred after an Alabama jury decided that Wal-Mart was remiss during its shopping center construction by allowing run-off water to flood a neighbor’s property. The jury verdict required Wal-Mart to pay the neighbor $10,000 in damages.
Details of the lawsuit show that the neighbor owned residential property a quarter of a mile from the shopping center site. During construction, two torrential rainfalls (of nine and 11 inches) caused flooding of the neighbor’s house. He claimed that at the time of the rainstorms, he saw water overflowing from a "catch pond" on the Wal-Mart property. After both rainfalls, he added, a drainage ditch located behind his property had then overflowed, causing water to rise to flood stage.
In support of the neighbor’s claim, a county public works official testified that Wal-Mart’s failure to install a culvert pipe had caused the flooding of the neighbor’s property. Such a culvert pipe, the official said, would have diverted water from the construction site to a ditch that would have carried the overflow away.
The official also said, however, that had Wal-Mart installed the culvert pipe he recommended, he still could not say for sure that the flooding would not have occurred.
An Alabama appellate court reversed the jury verdict, explaining, "No evidence in the record indicates that Wal-Mart negligently or wantonly constructed its drainage system. The county official stated that he could not say whether the neighbor’s property would have flooded had there been no construction, and he did not know whether the installation of the culvert pipe would have prevented the flooding. The evidence does not indicate that such torrential rainfalls had occurred in this area before.... The testimony presented on the issue of cause thus affords nothing more than mere speculation, and our supreme court has held that speculation is insufficient to warrant submitting a claim to a jury." (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Langham, 794 So.2d 1170 [Ala.Civ.App. 2001])
Decision: October 2001
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