Wal-Mart Off the Hook on Tackled Worker's Death
(CN) - Wal-Mart is not responsible for the death of a store greeter who was knocked down in the chase of a suspected shoplifter, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled.
Rochelle Boswell Pender worked as a greeter at a Wal-Mart in Wilson, N.C., alongside "loss-prevention associate" Sean Respass, whose job included detecting and apprehending shoplifters.
Respass testified that the company expected him to reach a goal of eight apprehensions per month. He was also told not to chase possible shoplifters more than 10 feet and not to engage in physical confrontations with customers.
One day in May 2011, Respass suspected a customer named Joshua Lambert of shoplifting. Respass asked Lambert to go to the back of the store with him for investigation.
Lambert agreed but turned and bolted for the door. Respass gave chase, and both men collided with Pender, who suffered a fatal head injury. Wal-Mart fired Respass for violating the no-chase policy.
Pender's estate then sued Respass, Lambert and Wal-Mart for wrongful death. A Wilson County dismissed the claims against Respass and Wal-Mart, however, after finding that they have immunity under the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act.
The Pender estate appealed, citing the quota for apprehending shoplifters, but the argument failed to pass muster.
"The fact that Wal-Mart Associates has implemented a no-chase policy evidences that it prioritizes the safety of its employees and customers," Judge Rick Elmore wrote for a three-member panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. "Wal-Mart Associates terminated Respass for violating this policy, further indicating its commitment to safety. Additionally, the record indicates that no prior injuries have resulted from the imposition of the quota system."
The Pender estate also argued that Respass should be held personally liable for allegedly trying to stop Lambert with a "leaping, flying tackle."
Respass persuaded the court, however, to find that his conduct did not rise to the level of "willful, wanton or reckless behavior."
"Respass testified that (1) Lambert threw the decedent into his path, (2) he slowed his pace before coming into contact with the decedent, (3) he did not believe that his impact caused the decedent to fall, and (4) Lambert caused the fall," Elmore wrote.