Falling Merchandise - The Trucker, January 4-17, 1999

NATIONAL

Driver wins $2 million for Wal-Mart injury


By Jack Whitsett
TRUCKER STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Louis Kilgo, a driver leased to a New Jersey freight carrier, opened one door of the sealed trailer first. Everything seemed in order, so, with difficulty, he yanked the other door open, and his life changed forever.

Kilgo, now 51, suffered head injuries and broken bones on the dock of a Sam's Club in Fayetteville, N.C., on Jan. 17, 1991, when 1,000 pounds of merchandise, loaded by WalMart employees, fell on him. He has been unable to hold a job, has undergone two major disc operations and faces three more surgeries, said Karen Zaman, a Charlotte, N.C., attorney who filed a negligence lawsuit for Kilgo against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sam's parent company, in 1993.

Last month, Kilgo won a $2 million judgment against WalMart in Mecklenburg County, N.C., Superior Court. Kilgo's wife, Carol, received $225,000 for damage to the couple's marriage.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning the verdict.

Wal-Mart will appeal, said spokesman Mike Maher.

"At least part of that responsibility should have been with the driver," Maher said. "It's common knowledge that loads shift in transit."

Zaman disagreed.

"They had known all along that it was their fault," she said.

"The load on the right side was Wal-Mart injury all the way to the back, but the load on the left had shifted. There were no restraining devices-at all."

"The door itself slammed him to the concrete," Zaman said. "The blood was everywhere. He had a bone that was literally sticking out of his skin."

Though "he tries to work a couple of hours a day, because he's a really industrious person," Kilgo has not been steadily em-, ployed since the accident, Zaman said.

Zaman, after working on the case for several years, contacted Denver attorneyJeffrey Hyipan.

"I litigate against Wal-Mart nationally," Hyman said. "I've obtained some rather large verdicts. Karen contacted me and said she had this ease that had been dragging on."

Documentation played a key role in the case, Zaman said, charging that Wal-Mart had dèstroyed shipping documents, including the bill of lading for. the truck, which was loaded at a Wal-Mart distribution center in. Georgia. Wal-Mart did not comment on Zaman's charge.

The company's accident report revealing, according to Zaman, that Wal-Mart knew its culpability in the accident, only surfaced in response to a subpoena by Hyman after the trial was in progress.

"Wal-Mart's counsel turned red and started dripping water," Hyman said, when the report, completed at the time of the accident by a Sam's manager, was introduced.

Kilgo won't yet receive the. money, Maher said, pending the company's appeal.



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