What You Should Know About Suing Wal-Mart
Many lawyers already know the difficulties of litigation against Wal-Mart, but for the benefit of those who are contemplating filing suit against the company, you should understand the following.
* Wal-Mart is a formidable opponent in court. It retains some of the best lawyers in the country, who have considerable experience defending the company. These lawyers are not afraid to take a case to trial. And when they lose Wal-Mart will usually appeal, even small verdicts. Wal-Mart's lawyers are connected to their own "extranet," a kind of electronic newsletter published by the legal staff at the home office. This allows Wal-Mart lawyers to have up-to-date information about key court decisions, strategy, and such things as expert witnesses the company will face. (One of the reasons for establishing the Wal-Mart Litigation Project was to counter the built-in advantage that Wal-Mart lawyers enjoy by being electronically connected.)
* Wal-Mart lawyers are paid primarily on a per-case basis. The per-case fee keeps Wal-Mart's cost of litigation low and produces a greater likelihood that a case will actually go to trial. Wal-Mart has little trouble finding able lawyers, despite the per-case payment, because the economics of law practice dictate the need for a steady source of income simply to pay the law firm's overhead.
* Wal-Mart is very reluctant to settle cases out-of-court. It is folly to think, "Oh, they're a big company, they'll settle." The founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton, established the company policy of fighting lawsuits and it remains the policy today. Wal-Mart settles cases only after prolonged court proceedings (called discovery) make it clear that the company was at fault and the plaintiff has sustained serious injuries and will appear to the jury as a likeable person. Settlements are usually small compared to similar injuries in other cases where a corporation is a defendant.
* Verdicts against Wal-Mart are usually low. This is due, in part, to the enormous good will Wal-Mart has built up by its television commercials which show friendly Wal-Mart employees, and the ability of the company's lawyers to portray plaintiffs as untruthful or exaggerating their injuries. Isolated newspaper accounts of high verdicts do not portray an accurate account of what most juries decide in Wal-Mart cases. Juries have been known to award the injured customer only his or her medical expenses and little more.
One example will illustrate this. In the state of Kentucky in 1998, there were approximately 617 jury verdicts in civil (non-criminal) cases. Of these 29 involved Wal-Mart, the most of any single defendant. Here are the results of those cases: Wal-Mart won 9 and lost 20. Of these 29 cases, 18 involved slip and falls; the causes of the falls included a puddle (six times), leaves, lettuce, an extension cord, ketchup, ice and concrete blocks. The premises liability genre resulted in eight cases, with various items falling onto customers that included shelves (twice) and a box of diapers. In two cases, plaintiffs were struck by carts. The three other cases involved a golf-cart accident, a bad oil change on an old Mercedes, and a claim of national origin discrimination filed by a West Indian.
The twenty plaintiffs' verdicts resulted in a total of $934,910 being awarded. The average award where the plaintiff won was $46,745. Removing the four largest of these verdicts from the total drops the average to $17,888 per plaintiff's verdict. If defense verdicts are included, the average award for all cases which went to trial was $32,238. See The Kentucky Trial Court Review: The Year in Review, 1998, at p. 45.
* Most lawyers are not interested in filing suits against Wal-Mart. The company is reluctant to settle cases promptly and fairly and almost seems eager to take cases to trial. One of the goals of the Wal-Mart Litigation Project is to identify lawyers who are ready, willing and able to sue the company where a case has merit.
Disclaimer NoticeThe Wal-Mart Litigation Project has no affiliation with Wal-Mart (Walmart) itself.
The Wal-Mart Litigation Project is solely coordinated by Lewis L. Laska and has no affiliation with any other organization, institution or entity.
It has no affiliation with the company whose headquarters is in Bentonville, Arkansas and operates under the trade names Walmart,Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Wal-Mart Associates Inc., Wal-Mart Discount Stores, Wal-Mart Stores East, Inc., Sam's Club, Sam's Wholesale Club, Sam's Club Members Only, Sam's Club We Mean Business, Sam's Club Membership Warehouse for Business and other companies related to Wal-Mart, or Claims Management Inc., Wal-Mart's captive insurer.
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