Falling Merchandise - Denver Post NewsBank Article 4-21-95

Wal-Mart suit nets $3.3 million

As seen in The Denver Post
Date: April 21, 1995
By: Stephen Keating, Denver Post Business Writer

A Denver jury yesterday awarded $3.3 million to Phillip Scharrel, a Jefferson County businessman who was injured from two falling ice drills at a Wal-Mart store in Littleton.

The jury award is among the largest of its kind in the nation.

"It's a big relief," said Scharrel's wife, Joyce, a party to the lawsuit, who was awarded $300,000 of the $3.3 million for emotional distress. "Hopefully, it sends a message to Wal-Mart."

Defense attorney John P. Mitzner, who conveyed the news on a cellular phone to Wal-Mart headquarters, put his hand over the mouthpiece and commented. "It could have been worse."

Indeed, the Scharrels, who live in Pine, had asked for $10 million in damages, with another $10 million in possible punitive damages.

The jury of four women and two elderly men deliberated for a full day before rendering their decision. All the jury members declined comment afterward.

Phillip Scharrel, 43, testified at the trial, but did not attend yesterday's hearing and had no comment afterward. Medical experts had testified that Scharrel suffered some brain damage from the accident and would be unable to run his heating construction business, which made $200,000 in 1993.

"He just feels bad about the whole thing," said Jeffrey Hyman, an attorney for the Scharrels. "He had a very successful business."

The accident occurred on Jan. 8, 1994, when a Wal-Mart clerk on a ladder fell, pulling down two 40-pound ice drills, called augers, that were in boxes on an overhead shelf. The drills, used for ice fishing, fell on Scharrel's head and neck. Scharrel walked out of the store on his own, and even bought one of the drills, but a visit to a doctor two days later began the diagnosis and treatment of his injuries.

"We are disappointed with the judgment," said Jane Arend, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart, which is based in Bentonville, Ark. "Especially since the customer continued shopping after the incident. We are reviewing our options."

The award to the Scharrels ranks in the top 3 percent of jury awards to plaintiffs in premises liability claims against retail stores, according to Jury Verdict Research, a company that tracks such cases.

Plaintiffs prevail 51 percent of the time, with many of the cases involving so-called "slip and fall" incidents. For accidents involving falling objects, however, 75 percent of plaintiffs prevail, according to the company.

Jury Verdict Research has tracked at least 12 cases in the past five years in which plaintiffs have won jury awards or settlements from Wal-Mart due to falling merchandise.

The cases include a Tennessee woman awarded $415,000 in 1992 for injuries suffered when a display of pickles collapsed on her at a Wal-Mart store four years earlier. An Indian woman settled for 16,178 in 1992 after a case of toilet paper fell while a clerk was attempting to retrieve two of the cases from a top shelf.

Article Copyright 1995 The Denver Post Corp.
Record. Number: 00818*19950421*03654


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