The family of a woman killed in a Massachusetts storefront crash in 2010 has been awarded $32 million by jurors who determined the store failed to protect customers from such car accidents, which were foreseeable given the store’s position and previous incidents at other sites.
The award followed years of litigation and the store’s insistence that it had done nothing wrong and the accident – caused by an elderly driver suffering a medical emergency – was not something they could have predicted.
While that may seem plausible on the surface, consider that the Storefront Safety Council reports some 60 times a day, someone drives into a storefront. More than 4,000 people are injured every year and some 500 are killed. These kinds of accidents, which endanger pedestrians, patrons and store employees, are to be anticipated when a store is next to an open parking lot or busy street.
Just recently in Pineville, about 20 minutes south of Charlotte, a woman crashed her vehicle into an AT&T store around 4 in the afternoon. Thankfully, no one inside was hurt, though the 68-year-old driver suffered minor injuries.
In some rare cases, the crash is intentional. It may be tougher in those instances to collect damages from the driver’s insurer because intentional acts aren’t typically covered by insurance. Nonetheless, this does not release property owners from a duty to ensure their site is safe for customers, so there may still be grounds for a successful premises liability action.
For the most part, though, these accidents are caused by someone who is distracted, impaired or suffering some type of medical emergency.
In the case out of Massachusetts, Dubuque v. Cumberland Farms, the 81-year-old driver of the sport utility vehicle was apparently suffering a stroke and slammed into the storefront while traveling 70 mph.
One of the main points raised by defendants after this car accident was that there had never been any previous “strikes” at this location.
Plaintiff countered that this was a large chain of convenient stores (albeit, family-owned) that had recorded 485 “car strikes” from 2000 through 2009 at his 500 locations along the East Coast. For a somewhat moderate cost of usually $10,000 or less, concrete bollards or barriers could offer significant protection for customers, employees and pedestrians. These barriers prevent vehicles that might jump the curb and slam into the storefront.
In this case, plaintiff lawyers presented evidence that such protection could have been installed in this case at a cost of between $3,000 to $3,500. Instead, they opted for a cheaper solution – 6-inch wide stops made of thin steel. It was ineffective at stopping the vehicle from barreling into the storefront, killing the 43-year-old wife and mother.
As one plaintiff lawyer pointed out, there was a long history of this particular chain neglecting the safety of its customers.
Although there is no federal law mandating this kind of physical barrier protection, there has been a significant legislative push to do so. In the end, it should not take a tragedy like this to prompt an industry or company to be proactive about the lives and well-being of their customers.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Storefront Crash Suit Against Cumberland Farms Yields $32.4 Million Verdict, Feb. 24, 2016, By Stuart Silverstein, FairWarning Reports
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