Walmart is big.
There’s no doubt about that.
The first Walmart was opened in Arkansas in 1962, but since then, Walmart has expanded into all 50 states, including California.
And so when injuries happen in Walmart stores in California, injured customers frequently turn to the complicated California personal injury system for help.
Today, Walmart is consistently ranked as the largest American company, with over 4,600 stores in the United States alone and 2.1 million employees worldwide, who sell over $400 billion worth of merchandise every year.
But it’s not just the revenue that’s big; the stores themselves are big too, with over 700 million square feet of floor space in their American stores.
With this much floor space, injuries are bound to happen in Walmart. And while the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of shoppers who enter Walmart stores every year manage to complete their shopping without incident, some customers unfortunately do suffer injuries. These injuries can be minor, but they can also be much more severe. And when this happens, the injured customer may be at a loss for how to recover damages for their injury.
Make no mistake, Walmart is Goliath, and if you try to sue Walmart for an injury, then you will feel like David going up against Goliath.
Walmart is rich enough to afford the very best defense attorneys, and they will do everything they can to make you drop your case.
That is why, if you are suing Walmart, you can’t go it alone.
You will need strong legal representation, and you will need a good grasp of the ins and outs of these types of lawsuits.
Are you confused about how to sue a big box store for damages in a personal injury case? You’re not alone in your confusion. Clients come and ask me these sorts of questions all the time, and so I am writing this article to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the topic.
By the time you are finished reading this guide, you will know all about the basics of premises liability law, and how to take on big companies like Walmart in the California courts and (hopefully) get the damages that you deserve.
Why Are Claims Against Walmart So Hard?
All personal injury lawsuits are hard, and the bigger the entity you are suing, the harder the lawsuit.
But claims against Walmart are especially tough to prosecute, for one simple reason: in California (and all other states), Walmart provides its own liability insurance.
What does this mean?
Well, almost all companies buy liability insurance, which will protect them in the event of a premises liability lawsuit. For smaller and medium-sized companies, it is most common to pay through a third party insurer.
However, Walmart is so big that it is able to self-insure. Rather than buying third party insurance, it has created its own company that handles all its liability claims. This means that, unlike with a third party insurance arrangement, Walmart will pay directly for any verdict or settlement that is reached against it in a personal injury case.Walmart will pay directly for any verdict or settlement that is reached against it in a P.I. case.Click To Tweet
This gives Walmart a direct financial incentive to do everything it can to avoid having to pay any damages, and so it will try every trick up its sleeve to deny your claim, dissuade you, and make things hard for you.
Of course, any insurance company will fight to have to avoid paying you.
But in most cases, the defendant will not have to directly pay the cost of the judgment or settlement if they are insured. Because Walmart does, this gives it an edge over many other companies, in that it will go the extra mile to defeat you where others might not. And that is why you should go into a battle with Walmart ready and well-prepared!
What Kinds of Injuries Do Customers Suffer at Walmart Stores?
Injuries suffered in Walmart can take all forms.
Some injuries, such as cuts and bruises, are relatively minor, whereas others are much more serious, and can lead to broken bones, head injuries, chronic pain, and other severe ailments. In rare cases, injuries in Walmart stores can even lead to death.
There are a variety of different types of injuries that customers frequently suffer in stores. One of the most common type of injuries is the slip and fall injury, which occurs when a customer slips or trips on the floor.
This can lead to serious injuries.
There are as many different types of slip and fall injuries as there are slippery substances…
…and that’s a lot.
Customers can slip on all sorts of things, including spilled water, milk, juice, or oil. Customers can even slip on solids such as rice, sugar, or dirt, or squishy fruits like banana peels. They may also trip over hard objects that have been left on the ground, or over welcome mats on the floor of the entryway.
Other types of premises liability lawsuits can emerge from broken machinery or poor maintenance to the premises, if these circumstances bring about an injury. If you cut yourself on the broken edge of a sign or a shopping cart, for instance, or if you reached into the shelf to grab a jar of jam and cut yourself on a shard of broken glass, this can be actionable as a personal injury.
Falling objects are another common catalyst of premises liability lawsuits, especially when they have been placed in precarious positions on high shelves. Such lawsuits can even stem from intentional acts, such as assault, if it can be demonstrated that Walmart provided insufficient security to guard against the malicious act.
Walmart injuries do not just happen inside Walmart stores, either.
For instance, Walmart has been successfully sued for injuries caused by its delivery drivers off of company premises. Injuries that happen on the sidewalks or in the parking lot of the store (such as slip and fall accidents on rainy or snowy pavement, or over cracks in the pavement) can also be actionable under some circumstances.
Sometimes, even more bizarre personal injuries can occur. Over the years, all sorts of crazy things have happened in Walmart stores, from births and weddings, to hilariously defective products, to much more serious crimes such as sexual assault, methamphetamine production, and even murder.
Personal injury claims can take a number of unusual forms, too, so even if your case is a bit out of the ordinary, don’t assume that you don’t have grounds for a lawsuit! You just need a smart lawyer who isn’t afraid of being thrown a curveball.
Under What Circumstances Can I Sue Walmart?
Premises liability law in the state of California has several levels of protection, for different types of guests.
The good news is that, as a customer of Walmart, you are considered an “invitee,” which means that you have the highest level of protection. It is expected that Walmart, like all other property owners, must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of its customers.
Of course, Walmart can’t ensure complete safety, because no situation is ever 100% safe.
It must only ensure that its stores are reasonably safe. This can be somewhat difficult to define, which is why premises liability cases rest heavily on legal precedent.
But the main takeaway is this: premises liability law is not all-inclusive. You can rest assured that if you act in a careless way or use the premises in a manner other than they were intended to be used (like getting drunk and running through the aisles, or climbing the shelves), you will not be able to sue for personal injury… and might, in fact, find yourself on the other side of the courtroom.
Even if the accident was not your fault, this does not necessarily mean that the store was automatically liable. For instance, if a bottle of liquid spills and you slip in the puddle and hurt yourself, then Walmart will only be liable if the spill happened long enough ago that it reasonably should have known about the spill and taken steps to avoid it. In other words, if you slip in a spill that happened only a few seconds before, and was caused by a customer, then Walmart will not be liable.
Generally, Walmart will be considered liable if
- It caused the dangerous situation.
- It knew about the dangerous situation but did nothing to remove it.
- It reasonably should have known about the dangerous situation.
This is why most stores conduct regular safety inspections to ensure that they are aware of all relevant dangers within the premises (such as puddles of spilled liquid or precariously balanced objects).
We should note, however, that this only applies to invitees. If you are invited into a Walmart store for non-commercial reasons, then you are considered a “licensee” under California law. Licensees can still sue for premises liability, but the standards are somewhat different.
And if you break into a Walmart store after hours, then you are considered a “trespasser” and will typically receive no legal protection (except in a few extraordinary cases, such as those involving child trespassers). Don’t expect to win a personal injury lawsuit for injuries you suffered while trespassing! (But you probably already knew that.)
Aside from this, to win a personal injury lawsuit against Walmart, you must prove the same four items that you must prove in any negligence-based lawsuit: duty, breach of duty, injury, and cause. In other words, you must prove that Walmart had a duty to remove a certain danger, that they breached that duty by failing to do so, that you suffered an appreciable injury, and that this injury was caused by this breach of duty.
What Should I Do If I Am in an Accident at Walmart?
Step 1: Seek immediate medical attention.
This should always be the first thing you do after suffering any injury. Your health is your first priority.
You might not want to seek medical attention after an accident. You didn’t set out that day planning to get injured, after all. You probably have other plans for the rest of your day, and rushing to see a doctor might seem like an unpleasant, anxiety-provoking, and unnecessary distraction.
This being the case, a lot of people decide that it’s better to tough it out, and only worry about seeing a doctor later, if they feel the need. This is a mistake. Some injuries do not become apparent immediately after an accident, and other injuries which seem to be minor at first turn out to be more serious than originally thought.
Of course, some injuries aren’t that bad. So if you’re still not convinced to see a doctor, consider this: medical expenses are the backbone of any personal injury lawsuit; Going to see a doctor right away, and getting a full medical assessment of your injuries, will help you prove that you have a case. If you don’t start seeing a doctor until later, then it will be much harder to prove your lawsuit… and rest assured, companies like Walmart will not hesitate to use this against you in court.
So even if you’re not too badly hurt, it’s best to see a doctor ASAP and get your injuries on record, if you want to remain at all open to the possibility of pursuing a personal injury lawsuit later on!
Step 2: Start gathering evidence.
Evidence-gathering begins at the scene.
One of the best things you can do is take pictures of the scene immediately after an accident, and the circumstances that led to your injury. If you slipped in a puddle of liquid on the floor, take pictures of the puddle. If something on a high shelf fell on you, get a picture of the object, and the shelf itself, to show how precariously balanced it was. Take a lot of pictures, including wider panoramic shots of the area as well as close-ups of the danger itself.
If this accident happened in a store, there may be some witnesses who saw the accident, likely other shoppers. Take a moment to get their names and contact information! They may be very helpful to your case later. Even your clothes may be used as evidence, so preserve these in case they are necessary later.
Most Walmart stores have surveillance going on throughout the store. You and your lawyer can demand a copy of the tape, and this can be invaluable in showing what really happened when you were injured. For instance, if a danger was present for a long time, and Walmart failed to do anything about it, the recording can help prove this. Be sure to demand the tapes early on, though, because some security cameras automatically record over themselves after a certain length of time.
We already told you to seek medical assistance after the accident, and your doctor visits are another important piece of evidence that you should preserve. Keep a record, not only of your first doctor’s bill, but of all medical expenses that you must pay as a result of the injury you suffered, as well as the doctors’ descriptions of your injuries.
Don’t just keep medical records, either! If you lose work because of the accident, then keep a record of this too; it will be the basis for any lost wages you are able to recover. Finally, keep a record of all the ways in which the injuries interfere with your day-to-day life and if they cause you to miss out on any enjoyable activities. This will help you recover for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, later.
Step 3: DON’T talk to Walmart! (Or to any of their buddies.)
Throughout this entire process, there is something very important that you must keep in mind. This is likely your first premises liability case. But it is NOT Walmart’s first premises liability case. They have dealt with tens of thousands of cases like yours before, and they know how to handle these situations better than you do.
Let me repeat:
They know how to handle these situations better than you do, and they will do everything in their power to avoid having to pay you any damages. This includes tricks which, although not technically illegal, are certainly unethical, such as trying to get you to make a statement which is damning to your case.
After the accident happens, avoid talking to Walmart or any of its representatives, or giving any statements. They may call you and ask for a statement on the day of the accident. Don’t give them anything!
Before you leave the store, they may also try to get you to sign an incident report. Try to get a copy of the incident report, because it may serve as useful evidence later, but don’t sign anything! You have no legal obligation to do so, and it will likely only hurt you.
Walmart is known to contract out the handling of most of its legal claims to another company, a casualty claims administrator known as Claims Management, Inc. You haven’t heard of them, which makes them all the more dangerous to deal with.
If someone from Claims Management, Inc. calls you and tries to get a report, don’t give them anything, and don’t believe any promises they make! They might claim to be unbiased, but they’re not. They are directly in the pay of Walmart.
Once again, these guys know what they’re doing, and you don’t (unless you’re a personal injury lawyer yourself, in which case you probably aren’t reading this).
If Walmart knows that it’s guilty, but wants to weasel out of paying you what you deserve, then its insurance adjusters will try to give you a lowball offer to get you to drop the case. This offer might seem reasonable at first, but after taking it you might eventually come to discover that it doesn’t even cover your most basic damages. Don’t be duped! Most of the time, you can settle for much more than you were initially offered… if, of course, you are negotiating from a position of strength.
This is why it is so important to have an attorney backing you up, and representing you in any official communication with Walmart or any third parties which may represent Walmart. Not just any attorney will do, either, but one who has specific experience dealing with Walmart cases. Fortunately, this is a field of practice so big that some attorneys devote their entire careers to it.
Step 4: Don’t wait.
It’s natural to want to not rush into something as big as a lawsuit, and you should certainly be careful to get all your ducks in a row before filing one. But you shouldn’t wait too long, because of the statute of limitations – the deadline by which you must file a lawsuit after suffering an injury.
In California, the statute of limitations for premises liability cases is two years. This means that you must file the lawsuit two years after suffering an injury in a Walmart store, or else your case will be immediately dismissed by the judge.
If you have suffered injuries, then the countdown to the two-year deadline begins the day of the accident itself. However, if a loved one dies from an injury they received in a Walmart store, then the countdown for a wrongful death lawsuit starts the day of the death, if it is different from the day of an injury. For instance, if your family member slips and hits their head in a Walmart store, and they die three days after the initial injury, then you have two years and three days from the day of the injury to file a lawsuit.
Also, although the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years, the statute for property damage is three. So even if you are too late to file a case for your medical bills, you might still be able to recover damages for any property that was damaged or destroyed in the accident, so long as you file it within three years of the incident itself.
Statutes of limitations are annoying, but they exist for a good reason, which is that evidence deteriorates over time. This includes both physical evidence, such as injuries and property damage, as well as people’s memory of the accident. The more time goes by, the harder it is for a court to really figure out what happened. This is why, regardless of the statute of limitations, it is still important to file a case as soon as possible. Your attorney will most likely want to get started on the evidence while it is still fresh.
So, don’t rush into a lawsuit, but be mindful of the statute of limitations, and tailor your case accordingly (with your lawyer’s help, of course). And if your case happened more than a year ago, realize that you have to get moving!
Of course, not all accidents that occur at Walmart follow the above mentioned pattern.
Which brings us to…
What If I Was Injured as a Walmart Employee?
It’s all well and good to talk about the premises liability system for customers, but what if you were working for Walmart when you were injured? How do you recover damages in this circumstance?
Injuries that workers suffer on the job typically go through the workers’ compensation claims process, rather than through the personal injury legal system. There are only a few circumstances by which an injury on the job can lead to a lawsuit, such as if your employer acted with extreme negligence. For a few workers of Walmart, this may be true, but by and large, you should file a personal injury claim rather than a lawsuit if you are injured in Walmart.
One important difference between premises liability law and workers’ compensation law is that workers’ comp is awarded regardless of fault. This means that, unlike with customers who slip and fall in Walmart stores, you do not have to prove that Walmart was negligent to receive damages.
However, this does not mean that everything will be clear sailing once you file a workers’ compensation claim. For one thing, Walmart self-insures for workers’ compensation insurance, just as it does for its general liability insurance. And as with liability insurance, this gives it a direct incentive to pay as little as possible to its injured workers.
So, even though Walmart promises to treat its injured employees fairly and give them full compensation for their injuries, in practice it often works hard to deny workers’ comp claims, even to loyal employees who have devoted years to the company. You should be prepared for a fight, and expect Walmart to deny your claim or try some hijinks on you!
If you find yourself in such a dispute, you may still need to hire an attorney, preferably one who has experience with the personal injury system and with Walmart claims specifically.
What If I Bought a Defective Product from Walmart?
With the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of merchandise sold at Walmart stores every year, it’s no surprise that some products end up being defective. And sure enough, stories regularly come out in the news about Walmart products with bizarre and dangerous flaws.
Of course, if you have bought a defective product from Walmart, it’s worth trying to resolve the issue without resorting to legal remedies, by returning the product and asking for a refund. But if Walmart refuses to cooperate with you – or if you do not find out that the product was defective until it injures you – then a lawsuit might be your only option.
Product liability lawsuits, however, are different from the above mentioned types of cases, in that it is relatively common to sue multiple defendants at once. If Walmart sold you a defective product, then it was likely not solely responsible for that defective product, but instead shared the responsibility with multiple other parties along the chain of manufacture and distribution.
To that end, lawyers in product liability lawsuits try to cast as broad a net as possible, and include as many parties as defendants as they can think of. If your defective product was bought at Walmart, then Walmart will likely be a part of the lawsuit, but they may not be the only, or even the most important, part.
In any case, if you have suffered injuries or other damages due to a defective product, then you should get in touch with an experienced products liability attorney. And if your product was a mass produced consumer good, as most goods sold at Walmart stores are, then it is likely that many other people have bought the same defective product, and may have also been injured.
If there are enough other parties willing to sue Walmart for the same defect, then you may even become part of a class action lawsuit or a mass tort litigation, both of which allow a lot of plaintiffs to come together and pool their resources to take on big companies like Walmart that might otherwise be unassailable.
Sometimes, premises liability cases don’t get the attention that they deserve.
We all know about car accidents and how serious they can be; we all know about on-the-job injuries for construction workers and loggers. But slipping and falling on some spilled water while shopping in a Walmart store?
At first glance, that sounds like the sort of thing you should be able to walk off, and some people do. But for far too many Americans, premises liability accidents are devastating, and can lead to serious long-term injuries, permanent disabilities, or even, in extreme cases, death. These accidents are scary, and because they are so often overlooked, their victims often do not get the attention or sympathy (let alone the justice) that are afforded to victims of other accidents.
This is something that needs to change.
For millions of American consumers, Walmart is a godsend – a mega-store that provides an abundance of consumer goods at cheap prices that even working-class Americans can afford. And in most cases, Walmart does its business ethically, and gives back to the communities of which it is part.
But all too often, Walmart mishandles injury claims, and tries to sweep legitimate complaints under the rug so as to avoid having to pay the victims the damages to which they are due. And when this happens, it can be an uphill struggle for justice.
We at Torklaw believe that you deserve justice, and we regularly fight to represent our clients who have suffered devastating personal injuries against big corporations like Walmart. If you have been injured, you should seek out the best of the best in personal injury law, and find a lawyer who will fight for you all the way.
*If you have suffered an injury in a Walmart store in California, call Torklaw today to schedule a FREE consultation about your case.