Falling Merchandise - Rocky Mountain News - 4-21-95

WAL-MART LOSES INJURY SUIT - $3.3 MILLION AWARD FOR CUSTOMER WHO WAS HURT BY FALLING MERCHANDISE APPEARS TO BE A RECORD

As seen in the Rocky Mountain News
Date: April 21, 1995
By: Stanley Holmes - Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

A Denver jury Thursday ordered Wal-Mart to pay a Jefferson County man $3.3 million for injuries suffered when an ice fishing auger he wanted to buy fell off a 10-foot-high stack and hit him in the head.

It appears to be one of the largest damage awards to an individual in a personal injury case in Colorado, It eclipses a 1994 verdict of $2.1 million that involved a case of a skier hitting another skier.

Jurors agreed the Arkansas-based discount retail giant was responsible for the accident to Phillip Scharrel, and awarded him and his wife, Joyce $3.3 million. Attorneys for Wal-Mart declined to comment but said they intended to appeal.

The Pine Junction couple says their lives were changed forever since they entered a Littleton Wal-Mart last January to buy a motorized auger, a device fishermen use to drill through the surface of a frozen lake.

Phillip was. hit on the head by a boxed 40-pound auger and claims he suffered permanent brain damage. The accident caused him to lose his $200,000 heating and air conditioning business, his lawyer said.

"In a matter of seconds, he was a different man and I lost my best friend,'' Joyce Scharrel recalled later, holding back tears, "It has turned our lives upside down.''

Attorneys for the Scharrels believe the amount could be the largest consumer award returned against Wal-Mart, the nation's No. 1 discount retailer.

"I think this award sends a message about consumer safety,'' said Jeffrey A. Hyman, the Scharrels' attorney. "They simply cannot disregard consumer safety at the expense of profits. It can't be just sales, sales, sales.''

On all counts of negligence and liability, the jury found Wal-Mart responsible for Phillip Scharrel's accident and awarded him about $3 million.

"He simply cannot run or operate his business, which he started from the garage of his house in 1985,'' Hyman said. ''He has a permanent disability.''

The jury also awarded Joyce Scharrel $300,000 for emotional stress. She said the jury's decision was fair.

''It's been very hard on him and all of us,'' she said.

The struggle began 15 months ago when the Scharrels stepped into Wal-Mart. A clerk climbed a ladder to retrieve one of the boxed ice augers. The 40-pound boxes were stacked 10-feet high. As the clerk pulled one of the augers off the stack, he fell, pulling down two of the boxes. At least one of them dropped on Phillip Scharrel's head.

Attorneys for Wal-Mart claimed the incident couldn't have been anticipated.

Hyman blames Wal-Mart's merchandising strategy for the tragedy. The discount retailer normally stacks boxes high above its eight-foot shelves. Nationally, Wal-Mart stores have recorded 17.000 cases of falling merchandise that resulted in injuries to employees or customers in the last five years, he said.

Article Copyright (C) 1995, Denver Publishing Co.
Record Number: 01080*19950421*00042



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