Slip-and-fall cases are relatively common in personal injury litigation, so it’s no surprise that a considerable number of these cases involve the largest grocery chain in the U.S.
With Walmart’s size, they even created their own insurance company! If you need to contact them directly, Walmart’s insurance company is:
Claims Management, Inc.
PO Box 14731
Lexington, KY 40512
The Grocery Goliath
As of January this year, Walmart operates 5,342 branches in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. (and another 6,101 branches outside the U.S.). Texas is home to a tenth of its in-country stores, way more than Arkansas where it established its first store in 1962. D.C. has the least number of stores, having only five.
Walmart is the largest grocery chain in terms of sales. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the company generated an estimated $434 billion, up by 8.53% from almost $400 billion from the 2019-20 fiscal year. Some grocery brands have more stores, but none of them comes close sales-wise–and that’s not counting Walmart’s $125-billion in overseas sales.
Having this much capital means this grocery giant operates differently as far as handling liability claims go. Whereas most businesses would secure third-party liability insurance, Walmart lets its own insurance company, Claims Management, Inc. (CMI), handle claims.
Results have been less than stellar. CMI has been doing business for 27 years, yet it has yet to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Its entry currently stands at one out of five stars based on customer reviews, and the BBB lacks information on the company to give it a rating.
You might think Walmart could afford to improve their stores’ safety standards, given how much they make in a year. However, its stores have been at the heart of crime reports and public safety concerns over the years. Its millions of workers–cashiers, stockers, and everyone in between–are at much risk as their customers.
More importantly, as most personal injury lawyers would tell you, Walmart has a system for attempting to avoid large payouts.
The Anatomy of Walmart’s Defense
In a personal injury case, let alone a slip-and-fall one, most establishments won’t admit fault (negligence). Walmart tends to take this one step further with various tactics. Operating its own claims agency is just one of many.
The Recorded Statement Trap
You know how part of the Miranda rights goes: “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Of course, as the injured party, you’re not a criminal; but Walmart can take advantage of even offhanded comments to strengthen its case.
One move Walmart might try involves getting the injured party to ask for a recorded statement about the incident. Sometimes, they throw in a bone in the form of a promise to expedite the person’s claim or reimburse their medical expenses in exchange for a statement.
Walmart’s purpose in asking, or claiming, a recorded statement is required? To build their defense case.
As a precaution, never agree to give any statement before consulting a lawyer. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not obligated to provide one, at least until you’ve filed a formal lawsuit, and that would at a deposition. Having a lawyer prepare the injured party for a deposition can better protect the victim against misleading questions. A recorded statement early on, while you’re still treating, doesn’t help resolve your claim favorably.
Downplaying The Severity
Building a slip-and-fall case against Walmart or any establishment requires the injury to be severe enough. Most personal injury lawyers are reluctant to take claims where the damage doesn’t result in a broken bone or worse (it’s expensive to take a case to trial).
Not to sound like a conspiracy-theorist, but there’s a more pressing reason Walmart downplays the injury: either to encourage you to not get the medical treatment you need, or to later try to claim that you are getting too much medical treatment.
As a result, the adjuster may return to you with a far less offer than you expect. Your priority is getting the medical treatment you need, not following the advice of Walmart.
No matter how severe the injury, the victim will still have to pay their day to day bills. A broken limb, or back injury, can throw a wrench even in the most well-planned budget. Insurance companies know how to take advantage of this situation.
The Walmart adjuster may take weeks to return your phone call. As the wait grows longer, the adjuster may be counting on your bills piling up to the point that where you have no choice but to accept a low settlement offer.
These delaying tactics come in many forms, such as:
- Blaming the victim for not cooperating
- Constantly asking for new paperwork
- Changing the assigned contact person (adjuster)
- Not answering calls or correspondence
- Refusing to process the claim without a lawyer
Delaying tactics rely on the injured party’s urgency to pay off their bills. It’s hard to urge them not to accept the adjuster’s low-ball offer if they’re low on funds themselves.
Even if a person slipped and fell during a grocery run at an Oklahoma City Walmart, it doesn’t automatically hold Walmart accountable. There’s a possibility that a fellow grocer’s butterfingers had made the puddle that caused the slip and fall. Establishing liabiliy against Walmart usually boils down to:
- Did Walmart create the dangerous condition?
- If not, did Walmart have notice of the dangerous condition?
- If not, should Walmart have known of the dangerous condition?
For a slip-and-fall case to stand (sorry for the pun on a slip and fall), the plaintiff must prove negligence or that one party had done something that made the situation less safe to a reasonable person and caused harm. Holding a party liable for negligence involves:
- Duty – Walmart has a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of its customers. This should be relatively easy to prove, as businesses, regardless of their size, are obligated to maintain a safe shopping environment. Again, the case may hinge on why the dangerous condition was there. Walmart isn’t responsible if someone spills their drink a few seconds before you walk through the puddle. On the other side, if the puddle has been their for a significant time – Walmart should have had plenty of time to clean it up – or at the very least provide notice of the wet floor.
- Breach – Walmart failed to fulfill its legal responsibility. Being aware of the cause of the slip and fall but doing nothing to resolve it is considered a breach of such an obligation.
- Causation – Walmart’s failure to fulfill its duties caused the slip-and-fall incident. In this case, causation may not be immediately apparent. Walmart will likely blame you for the type of shoes you are wearing – or that you simply somehow saw the clear liquid on the floor, and chose to walk through it.
- Damage – The accident at Walmart caused your injuries. Most people have “pre-existing” health conditions. For example, on a shoulder injury case, Walmart’s attorneys will likely claim that the shoulder was already injured – somehow before the fall tore the injured party’s rotator cuff.
Establishing liability through these factors doesn’t mean the case is as good as won. Defendants can attempt to hold the plaintiff somewhat, if not equally, liable for the incident. Three common ways to do this involves:
- Comparative/Contributory Negligence – Walmart could argue that the victim played a part in it depending on the state where the incident occurred. In a comparative negligence state (like Oklahoma), the plaintiff may see their claims reduced by, say, 40% if a jury agrees that the plaintiff should have been paying more attention and that the plaintiff was 40% at fault. Meanwhile, in a contributory negligence state, the plaintiff may be denied claims if they’re at least 1% responsible for the occurrence (Oklahoma had years ago).
- Assumption of Risk – Walmart could prove that the victim knew the risk of stepping onto the puddle or a slippery area yet continued to do so. Icy sidewalks are the most common example here, and it’s highly likely a jury will agree with Walmart.
- Open and Obvious Condition – Walmart is not liable if they can show that the dangerous condition was “open and obvious.” Walmart may point to the wet floor sign in a bathroom to show that the plaintiff know that their bathroom was flooded.
Building Your Claim
Going up against a corporate giant like Walmart won’t be easy. The company will attempt to reduce, if not deny, your claim and call it a day. So, it’s important to build your case from the beginning.
First, secure as many pieces of evidence as possible. The more documents and evidence you compile, the harder it’ll be for Walmart to diminish your case. Your documentation should include (but not limited to):
- Photos and videos of the incident scene
- Statements from witnesses on the scene
- Don’t rely on Walmart’s Incident Report. Write down the contact information of anyone you talk to, or that witnessed your injury.
- Medical records and bills from your doctors
- Proof that you missed workdays due to your injury (for your lost income claim)
- The clothes and footwear you wore at the time of the accident
Second, immediately report the incident to Walmart. Ideally, you can do this where you were injured – before Walmart can clean up their mess. While this may appear counterintuitive, Walmart needs to know that an incident happened in one of their stores. One of their managers should be called, and will come to you in the store. Ask for a copy of the incident report before you leave the store.
Lastly, if you have questions, talk with a lawyer. Personal injury attorneys will meet with you for free to help you evaluate your case.