This case involves a thirty-four-year-old employee at a large, well-known retail store. The employee was working on the day after Thanksgiving, which is known as “Black Friday” in retail circles. The employee was standing near the doors of the store when it opened. A crowd of shoppers immediately rushed into the store when it opened. There were no police officers in sight and the crowd of more than 2,000 shoppers had become very violent about a minute before the doors were scheduled to open. The employee and six to ten other employees who had been inside the store tried to provide crowd control, but they could not control the shoppers. The employee was knocked to the ground by a swarm of shoppers. The shoppers broke down the doors of the store, and the man was thrown back on the floor and trampled in the stampede that ran over him. Several other shoppers were injured in the stampede. The employee died an hour later.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Does a retail store have a duty to protect employees if the store knows that there will be a large crowd trying to enter the store?
Expert Witness Response
The Friday after Thanksgiving has long been known as “Black Friday” in the retail industry. This is a day when large retail stores try to get shoppers to come into the stores by offering huge discounts in anticipation of the Christmas shopping season. The lure of Black Friday is so great because most stores offer very competitive early-bird shopping. Over the years, pre-dawn discount deals, coupled with aggressive shoppers, have led to many instances of stampedes and shoving matches when certain stores opened their doors. Sometimes shoppers become so aggressive that a “mob” mentality takes over and injuries or deaths may occur. I have over 20 years of retail experience as a Director of Loss Prevention and if a retail store creates foreseeable hazards for customers or employees, the store may be held liable for injuries or deaths that occur because of the store’s aggressive retail marketing schemes for advertising discounts. If a store engages in price slashing and this causes bargain hunters to swarm the store in massive numbers, the store may be held liable for negligence if a shopper or an employee is injured by an unruly crowd. The store in this case was probably negligent because it could have foreseen the risk of a stampede on Black Friday by looking at traffic patterns of shoppers. Since the store created a dangerous condition by offering discounts after Thanksgiving and failed to control the crowds, the store was probably negligent in this case. The store in this case should have used police officers or security guards to make sure that there was an orderly configuration of the crowd outside the store and that there was a set procedure for customers to follow to enter the store.