Falling Merchandise - Business Week - 4-15-1996

Up Front

DAMAGES: Victims can get millions

SAFETY PATROL

CAUTION:
FALLING INVENTORY

SHOPPING HARDLY SEEMS A hazardous undertaking. But lately, numerous shoppers have been hurt by falling goods-and some even killed.

At Wal-Mart's Westminster (Colo.) outlet, a 30-pound box fell seven feet off a highly stacked cart onto a customer's back. Saying she now can't do her job as a nurse, the shopper recently got a $435,000 court award. And last year, a mishap at Wal-Mart's nearby Littleton (Colo.) store cost the largest U. S. retailer $3.3 million. The victim, hit by two 40-pound ice drills toppling off a shelf, claims mild brain damage. Wal-Mart, saying it checks shelves to minimize accidents, is appealing both judgments.

Wal-Mart's insurer counts some 25,000 complaints of falling-goods injuries in the past five years, involving everything from ironing boards to barbecue grills. The retailer puts the number at half that and says most accidents aren't serious-like toilet paper rolls bumping noses. Wal-Mart is not alone. In 1994, at HomeBase's Lynnwood (Wash.) facility, a falling load of ceramic tiles killed a woman. HomeBase, stressing a concern for safety, calls the incident a "fluke."

Why the hazard? Attorney Jeffrey Hyman of Denver's Haligman & Lottner, which brought the two Colorado cases against Wal-Mart, blames "merchandising of the 1990s, trying to use every conceivable inch to display product."

Amanda Agee - Business Week 4-15-96



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