October 15, 1994 should have been a normal day for Sherry Wright and her family. Instead, a shopping trip to Wal-Mart altered her life forever. Sherry owned an air freight/trucking courier business. On that October day, Sherry and her 3 year old son went to a Wal-Mart in Charlotte, NC, and were passing through the toy department, when a large box containing a Fisher-Price Indy 500 Pedal Racer car fell from above Sherry and hit her on the head, knocking her out briefly. The box with the toy car in it did not fall off a shelf. It had been perched by Wal-Mart employees on a 2 x 10 ACROSS the top of the aisle. “Course I never looked up and notice this,” Sherry says. “No reason to. I believed that if I was in a public place, I should be safe.” Wrong. The boxes fell on Sherry, bouncing across her young son in the basket’s cart, and knocking Sherry to the ground. “Wal-Mart never called an ambulance or offered any medical assistance to us,” Sherry recalls, “not even a glass of water.” Glasses broken, Sherry went to the optical department of the store and had her glasses fixed. The company then let Sherry drive home alone, with her son. It took her 3 hours to drive the normally 15 minute trip. After seeing numerous medial professionals, Sherry finally was referred to a Head Injury Center. She was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress syndrome. “During all this time Wal-Mart was throwing my case to a different case manager every week, and totally ignoring me. I decided I need to find a lawyer.” She says Wal-Mart wanted to give her $10,000 and cover the medical bills she had incurred to date. Meanwhile, her injury sidelined her from her business. She tried to continue working as normal, but she couldn’t remember her customers, could not dispatch calls or follow through with shipments. She sold her trucks, stopped driving commercially, and downsize her accounts considerably. She diverted more energy into working with other people suffering from TBI, using the internet to educate others about brain injuries. Finally Wal-Mart reached an “undisclosed settlement” with Sherry, but the company can never restore a normal life to Sherry or her family again.
There are some things, it turns out, that Wal-Mart cannot buy. “I believed that if I was in a public place, I should be safe.” Shoppers should keep in mind that Wal-Mart is apparently “self-insured”, which means they pay for any awards against them out of their own corporate revenue. Litigants often have to fight the company for years to prevail, as Sherry did. But on top of the injury comes the aggravation and distress of legal battles over and above the medical battles. To date, Wal-Mart has never made a TV ad about how innocent enough merchandise can be converted into a potentially lethal weapon. Sherry is lucky. She survived her October 15th shopping trip to Wal-Mart. Other have not been so fortunate. To find out more about Sherry’s case, go to: www.tbichat.org/sherry2.htm.