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On December 1, 2016, Lindsey Rietveld was shopping at the Walmart store where she worked in Pella, Iowa, when a Ford F-150 pickup truck came crashing through the front door of the store. The truck struck and killed Ms. Rietveld and two others. As a result of the fatal crash, Rietveld's estate has filed a lawsuit against Walmart, the driver of the truck, and the architectural designer of the front of the store. The lawsuit claims the lack of barriers is to blame for the wrongful death.
The driver of the truck told police that he choked on a sip of coffee, passed out, and woke up after crashing through the front of the store. As a result of suffering the medical emergency, the driver was not charged criminally.
While the civil suit alleges that the driver of the vehicle was negligent in causing the accident, the theory of liability against Walmart and the architectural firm are a little different. Generally, stores can be held liable on a premises liability theory of negligence when an injury occurs in an area controlled by the store, including sidewalks, parking lots, or anywhere else the store controls or maintains. In short, stores are required to make sure their premises are safe for customers. Providing safe premises means not just protecting against obvious causes of injuries, like wet floors and falling debris, but also protection against any kind of foreseeable injury.
While it may seem random, the type of injury accident that occurred in the Pella Walmart is not completely unusual. In fact, many stores routinely install barriers or objects specifically designed to stop out of control vehicles from crashing through a store's door. Some states even require these sorts of barriers for stores in certain locations, or with exclusive parking lots.
A rather similar accident happened last year in Springfield, Massachusetts. In that case, a man had a stroke and crashed through a grocery store's door, killing only one person. That case resulted in a $30+ million verdict. The jury found that the grocery chain had the resources to install safety barriers, and failed to do so despite the obvious risk.
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