Advisory Warning: This is not a story for animal-lovers. Columnist Chris Baughman of the Baton Rouge Advocate has revealed a story about the rats at Wal-Mart that definitely is not a Mickey Mouse tale. It seems that 7 year old Denver Tarter was bitten by a rat outside the Wal-Mart store on Interstate 10 back in 1997. Denver’s mom, Tina Byers, was told by Wal-Mart store manager Todd Teska that he knew the rat — that not only had the rat been hanging around the store for months, but that the rodent had grown fat off of Wal-Mart popcorn and french fries from the instore McDonalds. The rat’s home turf was behind the coke machine just outside the store in the parking lot. When Denver’s mom saw the rodent, she said it was “as big as a puppy”. “I saw that thing’s tail,” she told Baughman. “It’s tail was at least 12 inches long.” Denver was rushed to the local hospital for treatment, and Wal-Mart’s manager went to his truck, pulled out a gun, and “terminated” the Wal-rat. As a result, the people at Animal Control couldn’t test the rat for rabies, because the Wal-Mart employee had dispatched it to rodent heaven. Denver got his tetanus shot and some antibiotics, and Denver’s mom got an $84 bill from the hospital. Ms. Byers called Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville to ask them to pick up the tab for Denver’s medical bill. At first a nice person at Wal-Mart told her they would cover the bill. But when nothing came in the mail after a couple of weeks, Denver’s mom smelled a rat. She called back, and this time the attitude had changed. “She was so mean and rude”, Byers said. “She told me Wal-Mart was not responsible and to go get a lawyer. She told me not to call back.” So Denver’s mom called a lawyer instead, and took Wal-Mart to court. Wal-Mart later told reporters that the Byer’s claim “didn’t make any sense to us”, and that it was “an unfortunate event — like any other accident that occurs.” But Denver’s family biggest shock was not from a rat, but from the courts.When Byers got to court, the Judge ruled that under state law, she had to prove that Wal-Mart OWNED the rat! Under state liability law, the rat had to belong to Wal-Mart, and even though it had been bred on McDonald’s french fries by Wal-Mart caretakers, and appeared to be a behind-the-soda-machine pet, the courts would not bite. The Judge also said that it would have to be demonstrated that Wal-Mart derived some benefit from the rat in order to show custody. So Denver’s mom got nothing but an emergency room bill from the hospital for her trip to Wal-Mart and subsequent trip to court. The final irony is that Tina Byers still seems to be chasing her tail. She told Baughman that although she has bitter feelings now for Wal-Mart, she still shops there! “It’s changed my feelings alot,” she admitted. “It’s supposed to be a family-oriented place, but it’s not.”
Moral of the story: If there is a McDonald’s at your local Wal-Mart, check behind the soda machine first to make sure there are no rats the size of puppies. Be sure to ask the manager if any of the associates have any pet animals. Do not assume that any rodents you see are, in fact, “owned” by Wal-Mart, because you may have to prove that in a court of law. Best way to avoid similar complications is to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart. That’s something that Tina Byers apparently hasn’t absorbed yet. Which just goes to disprove the old adage: Once bitten, twice shy.