Walmart is an archetypical American success story: beginning as a humble family-owned store in Arkansas in 1962, Walmart has expanded globally to become the world’s top retailer, with over 4,600 stores in the United States and 2.1 million employees worldwide. They sell over $400 billion worth of merchandise and collect almost $5 billion in worldwide revenue annually.
The stores themselves are big too, with over 700 million square feet of floor space in their American stores. While most of the hundreds of millions of shoppers each year manage to complete their Walmart visit without incident, some customers unfortunately do suffer injuries of varying severity.
An injured customer will feel like David competing against Goliath when attempting to recover damages from Walmart.
Walmart is rich enough to afford the absolute best defense attorneys, and they will do everything they can to make you drop your case. If you are suing Walmart, you will need strong legal representation, and some knowledge about these types of lawsuits. This guide will cover the basics of premises liability law, and describe how to take on big companies like Walmart to receive the compensation you deserve.
Personal injury lawsuits can be challenging, especially against rich and powerful entities. Claims against Walmart are especially tough to prosecute, for one simple reason: Walmart provides its own liability insurance.
What does this mean?
Most companies have liability insurance to protect them in the event of a premises liability lawsuit. Smaller and medium-sized companies typically pay through a third party insurer. All insurance companies do their best to avoid paying claims. But in most cases, the defendant will not directly pay the cost of the judgment or settlement – the insurance company will.
Walmart is so big that it can self-insure. Rather than buying third party insurance, it has created its own company that handles all its liability claims. This means that Walmart pays directly for any verdict or settlement reached against it in a personal injury case.Because it’s self-insured, Walmart pays directly for any verdict or settlement that is reached against it in a personal injury case.Click To Tweet
This gives Walmart a direct financial incentive to do everything possible to avoid paying any damages, from dissuading you, denying your claim, and making your case as burdensome to you as they can.
One of the most common injuries is a slip and fall, which occurs when a customer slips or trips on the floor.
Customers can slip on all sorts of things, including spilled water, milk, juice, or oil. Customers 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: for example, a customer cutting herself on the broken edge of a sign or a shopping cart, for instance, or another reaching into the shelf to grab a jar of jam and cutting himself on a shard of broken glass.
Falling objects are another common source of premises liability lawsuits, especially when they have been placed in precarious positions on high shelves. Lawsuits have even come about 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 the stores.
Walmart has been successfully sued for injuries caused by its delivery drivers off 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 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 curve ball.
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, but it must ensure its stores are reasonably safe. This can be somewhat difficult to define, which is why premises liability cases rest heavily on legal precedent.
One thing is certain: premises liability law is not all-inclusive. If you act in a careless way, or use the premises in a manner other than its intended purpose (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 spilled liquid was there long enough that the staff reasonably should have known about it and cleaned it up. In other words, if you slip in a spill that was caused by a customer only a few seconds before, Walmart will not be liable.
Generally, Walmart will be considered liable if:
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).
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:
After suffering any injury, your well-being is your first priority.
Often, people decide it’s better to tough it out, and only worry about seeing a doctor if they feel the need. This is a mistake. Some injuries are not apparent immediately after an accident, and other injuries that seem to be minor at first become more serious later.
Consider this: medical expenses are the backbone of any personal injury lawsuit. Receiving a full medical assessment of your injuries will help prove you have a case. The longer you wait to see a doctor, the harder it will be to prove your lawsuit, and companies like Walmart will not hesitate to use this against you in court.
It’s best to see a doctor ASAP and get your injuries on record, if there is any possibility you will pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
One of the best things you can do immediately after an accident is take photographs of the scene and the circumstances that led to your injury (or make sure someone else does, if you are unable). 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, take a picture of the object and the shelf itself to show how precariously it was balanced. Take more photos than you think you need, including wider panoramic shots of the area, and close-ups of the dangerous condition from multiple angles.
If this accident happened in a store, there may be other shoppers who saw the accident. Take a moment to record 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 existing footage after a certain length of time.
Your receipts and records or medical treatment are another important piece of evidence you should preserve. Keep a record of all medical expenses related to the injury you suffered, as well as the doctors’ descriptions of your injuries.
If you lose work because of the accident, then keep a record of this as the basis for any lost wages you may recover. Finally, keep a record of all the ways in which the injuries interfere with your day-to-day life or cause you to miss out on any enjoyable activities. This will help you recover for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, later.
Even if this is not your first premises liability case, Walmart knows 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.
Something they may do is persuade you to make a statement that is damning to your case.
Avoid talking to Walmart or any of its representatives, or giving any statements to anyone after the accident.
They may also try to convince you to sign an incident report before you leave the store. Don’t sign anything. You have no legal obligation to do so, and it may be used against you. Do try to obtain a copy of the incident report, because it may serve as useful evidence later, but don’t sign it!
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. If someone from this company, or any company for that matter, calls you for a statement or information, tell them you are not able to help them, and that they should direct any questions to your attorney.
If the company knows that it’s guilty, their insurance adjusters may call you with an offer for you to settle (drop) the case. This offer might seem reasonable at first, but after taking it you might eventually discover that it doesn’t cover your damages. Most of the time, you can settle for much more than you were initially offered if you are negotiating from a position of strength.
This is why it is so important to have an attorney who has specific experience dealing with Walmart representing you in any official communication with the company or any third parties that represent them.
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 the injury.
Also, although the statute of limitations for property damage is three years. 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 if you file within three years of the incident.
Statutes of limitations exist because evidence deteriorates over time. This includes both physical evidence, such as injuries and property damage, as well as people’s memory of the accident. Your attorney will most likely want to get started on the evidence while it is still fresh.
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. In rare cases, 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, Walmart self-insures for workers’ compensation, just as it does for its general liability insurance, and this gives it a direct incentive to pay as little as possible to its injured workers.
Although Walmart promises to treat injured employees fairly and give them full compensation for their injuries, in practice they may seek to limit or deny workers’ comp claims. 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.
With the hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise sold at Walmart stores every year, the law of averages means that some products will be defective. 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. 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 are different from premises liability or workers’ compensation cases, in that it is relatively common to sue multiple defendants at once. If Walmart sold you a defective product, it is likely they are not solely responsible for that defective product, but instead shared responsibility with multiple 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, you should contact an experienced products liability attorney. If your product was a mass produced consumer good, as most goods sold at Walmart stores are, it is likely that many other people have bought the same defective product, and may have also been injured. You may become part of a class action lawsuit or a mass tort litigation, both of which allow many plaintiffs to come together to take on big companies like Walmart, which might otherwise be unassailable.
For millions, Walmart provides an abundance of necessary goods at prices working-class people can afford. For the most part, Walmart operates ethically, and gives back to the communities of which it is part. But sometimes, Walmart mishandles injury claims. When this happens, it can be an uphill struggle for justice.
The attorneys at Torklaw believe that you deserve justice, and advocate for clients who have suffered devastating personal injuries. If you have been injured in a Walmart, call Torklaw today to schedule a FREE consultation about your case.