Falling merchandise has injured thousands of unsuspecting shoppers, some have even been killed. When you think of falling merchandise you may be picturing something fairly small, like a six-pack of soda or a toaster, falling from somewhere around eye level or even just above head height. If so, you’re probably thinking that it might be painful, but wouldn’t do any real damage. The kind of falling merchandise we are talking about can fall from heights of 20 feet, include items weighing more than 50 pounds, and can involve entire stacks or shelves of these heavy items.
Examples of the types of item which are involved in falling merchandise accidents include:
- Five gallon buckets of paint
- Steel bathtubs
- Drill presses
- Table saws
- Heavy boxes
- Entire pallets of merchandise
As you can imagine, any of these items falling from ten feet above you, or more, is no minor accident. The weight, velocity, and impact of falling merchandise, as well as the resulting falls, can cause serious injuries including:
- Head injuries
- Brain injuries
- Spinal injuries
- Back injuries
- Neck injuries
- Shoulder injuries
- Knee injuries
- Torn ligaments
- Soft tissue injuries
- Broken bones
- Neurological damage
How it happens
Several factors contribute to falling merchandise. First of all, merchandise is poorly stacked, stacked too high, and inadequately secured, leaving it poised to topple if disturbed in any way. Shoppers themselves can inadvertently dislodge improperly stacked merchandise, while retrieving other items. Stocking and moving of merchandise often take place while customers are shopping, particularly in stores which are open twenty-four hours a day. Some stores have safety policies which include having an employee keep shoppers out of adjacent aisles, but they do not always adhere to these policies. Common causes of falling merchandise include:
- Stacking too high
- Poor stacking
- Unsecured merchandise
- Unsafe displays
- Inadequate employee training
- Defective racking
- Defective pallets
- Inadequate shrink wrapping
- Inappropriate forklift operation
- Failure to warn customers of danger zones
Liability and laws
Under premises liability law, stores have a legal duty to protect their customers from falling merchandise, but there are not laws which define safe stocking practices. OSHA regulations are designed to protect employees from injury while stocking, and there are some fire codes which govern certain things like how close to the ceiling merchandise can be stacked, but shelf design and devices such as railing, strap, and shrink wrap, which could prevent merchandise from falling, are not mandated by law. Warehouse stores and super discount stores, which have strong lobbying power, oppose such regulations because they would mean more expense.
An all too common problem
It has been reported that Home Depot receives nearly 200 falling merchandise complaints every week. Wal-Mart revealed, in court documents, that over 17,000 falling merchandise claims were filed against it by customers from 1989 to 1994. One-third of those claims were by victims who were struck in the head. Other warehouse and super discount stores which have faced falling merchandise claims include Kmart, Lowe’s, and Toys ‘R Us. Some have even faced wrongful death lawsuits, because victims were killed by falling merchandise.
For the stores, it’s all about money
Safer stocking practices could cost these stores a significant amount of money in sales, wages, and other expenses. Possibly more than they anticipate having to pay in compensation for those who are injured or killed.
- Marketing. The signature look of a warehouse store typically includes stock piled sky-high on shelves well above customers’ heads. Whether it’s the appeal of the “real construction” feel of a home improvement store, or the illusion of deep discounts in super discount stores, customers expect this type of environment, and the stores are not willing to sacrifice this marketing tool.
- Change in policy. Safer stocking practices would take more time, more employees, and possibly even mean losing some sales due to blocking off unsafe portions of the store while stocking occurs.
- Safer shelving. Improvements to shelving and racking would mean spending money on new equipment.
- Competent employees. Many of these stores make a practice of hiring employees with the least skill and experience possible, so that they can pay them the lowest possible wages. They then fail to properly train these employees.
If you or a loved one has been injured by falling merchandise in a warehouse store or super discount store, you may be entitled to compensation under premises liability law. If you have lost a loved one due to their injuries, you case would also fall under wrongful death . If you believe that you have been injured due to negligence or wrongdoing of one of these stores, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today.