Over the years I have written about some of the dangers of shopping at stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Here’s another one, this time from Hot Springs, Arkansas. The information here is taken from the legal briefs filed on behalf of the injured shopper. On the afternoon of November 12, 1992, 33 year old Mike Burkeen, the owner of a fishing bait manufacturing company, left home to shop at the nearby Wal-Mart. He told his wife, Linda, that he was going Xmas shopping. Linda began preparing dinner, and before Mike left home, he put up a pot of coffee, saying that he would be back in half an hour. He arrived at Wal-Mart sometime after 3:40 pm, and called Linda around 5 pm to confer with her about what to get at Wal-Mart. Shortly after that call, Mike was passing by a display of glass “snow globes” that were stacked on top of one another, with no frontal protection, on the shelf, unboxed. Mike slipped and fell on a broken snow globe, whose contents had spilled into the aisle. According to an eye witness, Mike slipped on the glycol thickener used in the globes, his feet went into the air, and he landed on his head. His injuries included lacertions from the broken glass, several injured cervical discs, and a permanently disabling brain injury. Wal-Mart employees attempted to give first aid to Burkeen, “who was obviously bleeding, stunned and in shock” from the fall, according to the lawsuit the family has filed against Wal-Mart. Mike was then “sent or directed” by employees to go outside the building, and was “abandoned” in the Wal-Mart parking lot, even though he was not well. When Mike did not return home, Linda called Wal-Mart around 7 pm and had him paged. Store workers told her that her husband did not appear to be on the store premises. She made a second call around 8:30 pm and was again told he was not on the premises, and again was not informed of his injury or fall. Linda finally found Mike, just after 11 pm that night, unconscious, in his pickup truck, with blood on the seat and floor of the cab. Mike suffered kidney failure, brain damage, post-concussion syndrome, nerve damage on his left side, severe spinal injuries, and is now totally and permanently disabled. The eye witness claims that Wal-Mart employees failed to realize that Burkeen needed professional medical care, failed to call an ambulance, and were negligent in their abandoning him in the store, where he wandered in a dazed state for at least 20 minutes before going out to his truck. At the time of his injury, which Wal-Mart claims was due to his negligence, not the store’s, Burkeen was making an income of approximately $100,000 a year from his business. His medical expenses, at the time his wife filed suit, were over $80,000, and his financial losses were at least $450,000. “He is totally and permanently disabled due to his brain injury,” his lawsuit says, “and will require a lifetime of rehabilitation and medical care, all of which is reasonably certain to require a life care plan in excess of $1,000,000.
Wal-Mart’s Customer Safety Module says that “stacking and storing merchandise safety is important. Improperly stacked merchandise can topple over, striking and injuring customers..Merchandise must be stable and not be stacked so high that it could fall to the floor…Ask yourself…What will happen if it is bumped?” Burkeen’s lawyers contend that if Wal-Mart had safely stacked its merchandise, and kept its premises in clean condition, that the accident would never have happened, and Linda Burkeen would still have a healthy husband. “Don’t stack merchandise on the shelf so that it is easy for it to fall,” the Wal-Mart Customer Safety Module says. It does not say in the Module, “leave the customer ‘daazed and staggering’ ” but that’s what the lawsuit contends happened to Mike Burkeen. Wal-Mart workers handed him a paper towel for his cuts, and “allowed him to meander, bleeding, dazed and confused and in need of further medical care” for as much as half an hour inside the store. When Burkeen left the store, he did so without aid being further offered, and without an ambulance being called”. Six hours passed after the accident before Linda discovered Mike in his truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot. For more stories about Wal-Mart injuries, see the newsflash below for 11/24/98, 12/30/98, and 1/15/99. And don’t depend on a store “module” to protect your family members. An attorney represnting the Burkeens’ is Mark Ledbetter (901-523-8153). The case is Burkeen vs. Wal-Mart, Garland CY (Ark) Cir.Ct. No 96-14.