As warehouse-style superstores become ever more popular, they stack their merchandise ever higher. For both consumers and employees of these stores, this practice is often a tragedy waiting to happen and, in innumerable cases, has been happening for some time already.
Stores like Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Home Depot and others have created safety rules requiring areas where boxes or pallets are being moved by forklifts to be closed off with some sort of barricade. Many of these stores also require an employee to serve as a spotter during this process to ensure that surrounding merchandise is not inadvertently pushed onto customers below. Compliance varies, however, and falling merchandise accidents and lawsuits continue to happen.
Other safety practices simply do not work. While some stores wrapped upper shelf merchandise in plastic and lower shelf merchandise with restraining bars, there are several documented cases in which these measures failed.
Some store managers have actually admitted in interviews that they are in a constant balancing act between the risk of injury from falling merchandise and the cost of preventive measures. But at the same time, corporate representatives of these superstore chains go to courts to keep injury statistics secret or they pay victims of higher profile cases to remain silent.
Generally, consumers are simply not aware of the degree of danger they put themselves in when shopping at warehouse-style stores. Some studies claim that at the very least, an average of 10,000 shoppers are injured yearly nationwide as a result of falling merchandise, including merchandise dropped by employees. Every year, several deaths from falling merchandise are also reported.
There is little industry safety regulation with regard to this issue. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t inspect for consumer safety concerning falling merchandise except with regard to the store’s inventory when an employee has been injured. And, speaking of inventory, be aware that during the holidays, shelving rarely meets these store’s needs and is often filled beyond capacity.
Regardless of the statistics or the season, all stores have both a moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for their customers and employees. They can be held liable for damages under a variety of laws, including premises liability, product liability, personal injury, and a variety of employee safety regulations. Thousands of lawsuits are filed each year against giant retailers.
If you or a loved one has been injured by falling merchandise, please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today.