Falling Merchandise: Watch Out!
- If you see improperly stored or dangerous merchandise, bring it to the attention of the store manager.
- If you are hurt by falling merchandise, send a relative to the store to take pictures of the area, the display, and the merchandise involved ASAP!
- Do not give a statement until you have contacted a lawyer who has handled AND TRIED falling merchandise cases before.
- Make sure that your lawyer sends letters to the store requiring that it preserve all evidence.
A Customer Is Injured by Falling Merchandise in Target
The sixty-one year old woman walked along the aisle at Target looking for a storage cubicle for her daughter. She noticed that the boxes of various unassembled furniture items seemed to be stored too high, but otherwise did not see anything that caught her attention. After going one direction down a back aisle, she turned around and began going back the direction she came. Shortly afterwards, she felt a sudden shock to the side of her head and neck as a 55lb unassembled bookcase slammed into the side of her head.
After she cried for help, a guest found a store employee, who called the manager. The manager brought a Guest Incident Investigation Kit. He filled out the written section of the report. However, he did not take a written statement from a witness listed on the report. He also did not take any pictures of the product, the display, or the area in question even though these were REQUIRED BY TARGET’S MANDATORY POLICIES AND PROCEDURES. Later, Target would also claim that no video was available because the area where the accident happened only had a “dummy” camera. Later, Target would deny that the box fell on the lady or that if it did that it was their fault.
The lady was taken to the emergency room by ambulance and diagnosed with a closed head injury. The records show that she had a bruise on the right side of her head. After trying other treatments for over a year, the lady had neck surgery to attempt to relieve her pain. When this surgery failed, she had to have another more serious surgery. The surgery helped but did not eliminate her pain. This pain likely is permanent.
Store Owners Must Store Merchandise Safely
Store owners in Alabama must keep their stores reasonably safe for their customers. This duty includes a duty to safely display merchandise. The situation discussed above could have been prevented if Target had simply followed its own practices for safely displaying merchandise. Unfortunately, falling merchandise is a big problem at Target and other megastores.
Target Violated Its Safety Rules
What went wrong? Target’s policies require that items like the unassembled bookshelf must be stored on shelves lower than 29 inches. Common sense dictates that they should be stored as low as possible, preferably on the bottom shelf. Witness testimony showed that the box actually had been stored much higher. A picture taken at the Target in 2019 shows boxes like this one being stored almost 40 inches off of the ground. When heavy boxes fall from this height, they will hurt someone.
Secondly, boxes like this must be stored with safety arms that prevent them from falling over. The arms must be close enough together so that the boxes cannot be slid to the side or stored in a way that they could fall forward without contacting the safety arms. The safety arms also are supposed to go across the top one-third of the product. Target testified that these procedures were mandatory and that they always followed their procedures. However, the picture below, taken in early September 2020 at Target, shows heavy bookcases being stored in violation of these safety procedures.
What Are Big Box Retailers
While this particular incident happened at Target, falling merchandise injuries can happen at almost any retailer. Retailers like Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Dollar General all have faced claims arising out of injuries from falling merchandise. These stores and others like them are called “Bix Box” retailers. Big Box retailers store most of their merchandise in shopping areas and thereby save money on warehousing and storage space. They also know that customers who are able to see, touch, and handle the merchandise are much more likely to buy it. These retailers intend for their customers to handle the merchandise.
With this practice comes additional danger. Items stored on shelves, if they are stored incorrectly, can fall and hurt customers. Retailers also know that customers will move items and put them back in the wrong place. Retailers have to take these things into account when they store merchandise. The retailers would be required to follow strict federal guidelines for storage of this merchandise in their own warehouses and required to train their employees on safety. However, they do not follow these procedures on their sales floor.
How to Stay Safe and What to Do if You Are Hurt
The next time you walk through one of these stores, pay attention. If you see anything that looks dangerous (even if the store has deliberately displayed it that way) take pictures and tell the store manager. If you or a loved one are hurt by falling merchandise, make sure to follow the tips at the beginning of this article and give us a call. We are experienced in falling merchandise cases and will begin the process of preserving evidence and holding unsafe stores accountable