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Fatal Obstructions
by Ron Davis

A Missouri jury has found that the “negligent design” of a parking lot at a Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., shopping center in St. Joseph resulted in the death of one of its customers.

The customer died from injuries she received when she was run over by a car at a crosswalk leading from a store entrance to the shopping center parking area. The driver of the car apparently failed to see the customer.

The driver later explained that just prior to the accident, she was driving her Chevrolet Suburban parallel to the front of the store. She said as she looked to her left in search of a parking space, she heard a noise and realized that she had hit something. She stopped and saw a shopping cart in front of her vehicle. Believing that she had only hit the cart, she began driving again. Only when she looked back seconds later did she realize that she had run over the victim.

When the accident occurred, the driver was approaching the third of three entrances to the Wal-Mart store. Each of those entrances had yellow stripes painted on the pavement, designating crosswalks. (The yellow paint in the front of the third entrance, however, was somewhat faded, the driver said.) The first two crosswalks — but not the third — were marked by pedestrian crosswalk signs. There were no crossing guards nor speed bumps there.

Although the area in front of the store was designated as a no-parking zone, four cars were parked in front of the store and to the driver’s right. Moreover, Wal-Mart had merchandise on display outside the third entrance as part of a sidewalk sale.

In its defense, Wal-Mart pointed out that no serious accidents had occurred at the shopping center in the past. Wal-Mart also argued that there was no substantial evidence that its negligence caused or contributed to the customer’s death.

In the subsequent lawsuit by the victim’s family, however, a jury decided otherwise, finding that Wal-Mart “designed or maintained its parking lot in a negligent manner that contributed to the death of its customer.” Wal-Mart appealed.

A Missouri appellate court upheld the jury verdict, explaining, “None of the inferences from this evidence…and apparently found by the jury defy logic and reason. Rather, they present a classic situation where multiple facts all contribute to cause an injury…. Viewed in the light most favorable to the deceased victim’s family and disregarding all contrary evidence and inferences, there was substantial evidence that Wal-Mart’s negligent design of its parking lot was a direct cause of the woman’s death. (Poloski v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 68 S.W.3d 445 [Mo.App.W.D. 2002])

Decision: April 2002
Published: May 2002



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