We all love a bargain. Plus, who doesn't love scavenger hunts? For many, Black Friday is a part of their annual tradition. Eat until nauseated on Thanksgiving, pass out in a food coma, and then wake up early and fight crowds for $10 off a video game or $100 off of a television.
It seems, however, that the confluence of a bad economy and deal hunting has escalated things a bit. A few years ago, a Wal-Mart stampede killed an employee and caused a miscarriage. Last year, a woman pepper-sprayed fellow shoppers in the midst of a video game scramble.
Sure, these isolated incidents happened in massive population centers (New York and Los Angeles, to be exact) and those in more isolated towns (like Lexington, Virginia for example) probably won’t face the same dangers (there aren’t enough people in Lexington for a stampede … trust us). Still, one has to wonder whether the bargain hunting buzz is getting a bit out of hand.
It seems stores are furthering the problem each year. Sale times have been moved up to Thanksgiving night. Doorbuster deals (an unfortunate term that really does reflect the madness) are being leaked weeks ahead of time on the internet in order to build more demand.
So when the doors really do bust, and people are injured in the stampedes and pepper spray clouds, will the stores that enabled such behavior be liable?
One might argue that these incidents are not reasonably foreseeable results of sales. After all, Black Friday is a decades-old tradition and the mob violence seems to be a new development.
True, but on that same note, after recent stampedes, stores should now be on notice: desperate shoppers and Black Friday buzz requires new crowd-control measures to be taken to ensure patrons’ safety.
The key to liability in these instances is proximate cause. While A can cause B, liability only exists where B was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of A. This can also be stated as follows: Is B a consequence that comes naturally from A or is it a freak occurrence?
Stampedes and stores filled beyond capacity are absolutely foreseeable at this point. If a fire broke out, and people died because the store was to be evacuated in an orderly manner, the store would be liable for the deaths and injuries.
Conversely, the actions of an individual shopper, such as pepper spray showers or fist fights over a Crock Pot, are arguably not the type of danger that is foreseeable from offering goods at a massively discounted price. Still, we’d recommend that store owners keep extra security on hand to quell any bargain-hunter brawls.
- Consult a New York Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
- Still no charges in Wal-Mart Black Friday pepper spray incident (Los Angeles Times)
- Black Friday Safety Tips (FindLaw’s New York Personal Injury Law Blog)
- Free Falling: A Slip and Fall Law Primer (FindLaw’s New York Personal Injury Law Blog)