Katoria Lee, 35, who works for the Ford Motor Company, stopped off at a Wal-Mart store in Riverdale, Georgia on March 8, 2001, and picked up a lot more than she bargained for. Lee went to Wal-Mart at 1:30 am to buy some party supplies for her 9 year-old son, who was asleep inside her Ford Explorer. She parked under a light pole close to the front entrance of the store. When she emerged from the store, an assailant told Lee to give him her keys. Lee dropped the keys and ran — but the assailant shot her in the back with a .380-caliber handgun. Lee pulled her son out of the SUV before the assailant drove away. Her assailant was later arrested, tried, and convicted in the shooting/carjacking case, and is now serving a 15 year sentence for the crime. But for Lee, justice has taken nearly five and a half years in court against Wal-Mart. As a direct result of the shooting, Lee cannot fully use her right arm, has permanent nerve damage on her right side, and chronic pain. This week, a jury in Clayton County, Georgia ordered Wal-Mart to pay Lee $4,200,000 in damages from her civil suit against the retailer. “This is exactly what Wal-Mart should have expected,” Lee’s lawyer told the Clayton News Daily. He said Wal-Mart should have had security in the parking lot, and should have known that violent crimes had occurred in the past in this parking lot, and would continue to occur on their property. The jury heard evidence of 39 car thefts and aggravated assaults in the Riverdale Wal-Mart’s parking lot during the two years before Lee was shot. “The jury was influenced primarily by the number of crimes there,” explained Lance Cooper, Lee’s lawyer. “Wal-Mart’s defense was they had no notice that a shooting would occur.” The Riverdale Wal-Mart did have security cameras pointed at the parking lot, but the company had no guards outside the store. Wal-Mart gave the tapes to police for the trial of the assailant, but the retailer destroyed the tapes before Lee’s civil suit. A spokesman for Wal-Mart said that it was “disappointed” in the jury’s verdict, and might consider an appeal — further prolonging Lee’s pain and suffering. The company claimed that all its stores have security guards inside the store in plain clothes. Those guards are not there so much to protect the customer, but to protect the merchandise from being stolen — what retailer’s call “shrinkage.” Some stores have security in the parking lots if the crime statistics warrant it. If Wal-Mart is going to appeal they have 30 days to file the paperwork.
In her legal complaint, Lee charged that Wal-Mart had failed to provide enough security at the shopping center. She provided a list of 398 visits by police to that store for various crimes in the 20 months leading up to her shooting. This case gets added to the lengthy dossier of Wal-Mart parking lot crimes. To read more, get “The Case Against Wal-Mart” by calling 1-877 DUNK WAL, and search Newsflash by “crime” for earlier stories.