WOOD COUNTY, W.Va. — Walmart officials said they were “evaluating all options” after a Wood County jury’s decision this week to award a woman who was injured during the apprehension of a shoplifter at the South Parkerburg Walmart four years ago $16.9 million in damages
Jamie Bordas, the attorney for Diane Ankrom, the plaintiff, said the verdict was appropriate.
“She’s got a lifetime of care and a lifetime of consequences as a result of Walmart’s conduct,” said Bordas who works with Bordas & Bordaw Law Firm out of Wheeling of Ankrom.
“We hope that this sends a message to corporations that it’s important to put safety over profits.”
The verdict, returned Monday after less than two hours of deliberations, included $6.5 million for Ankrom’s past and future medical expenses along with more than $10 million in general damages.
Responsibility was split with 70 percent allocated to the shoplifter and 30 percent to Walmart.
In Feb. 2015, Ankrom was at the South Parkersburg Walmart with her granddaughter when the shoplifter was stopped in the vestibule near the exit after stealing gloves.
The gloves were returned at that point to Walmart employees, according to Bordas, who said those employees then took the shoplifter back into the store when they knew he was a “flight risk” because of his previous attempts to run.
“Sure enough, he did flee again and took off running and, when he did, ran into Mrs. Ankrom’s cart, knocked her over to the floor, knocked the cart on top of her, threw her granddaughter out and, unfortunately, caused Mrs. Ankrom to suffer some pretty significant injuries,” Bordas said.
Bordas said Ankrom sustained traumatic injuries to her intestines which have required multiple surgeries during more than 20 hospital admissions.
At the age of 52, she’s living with an ileostomy for waste removal and requires a special feeding procedure daily in order to get enough nutrients.
“This was what’s believed to be the highest verdict in the history of Wood County on behalf of a single plaintiff and we think there’s good reason for this, that Walmart’s conduct was inappropriate,” Bordas said.
“It was demonstrated that they not only failed to follow industry-best practices with respect to the detention of shoplifters, but also failed to follow their own written policies and the jury recognized that and decided that’s just not appropriate conduct.”
Walmart officials denied that in this statement a spokesperson provided to MetroNews:
“We are sympathetic to Ms. Ankrom and what she experienced in our store. However, we strongly believe our associates did nothing wrong and followed company policy. The jury’s verdict is not supported by the evidence as we believe the actions of the shoplifter were the sole cause of Ms. Ankrom’s injuries,” the statement said.
Options for next steps for Walmart in the case included filings of post-trial motions or an appeal.
As for the 70-30 responsibility split, Ankrom was hurt in early 2015 before the West Virginia Legislature made a law change establishing a new comparative fault standard and abolishing joint liability.
Under current law, each defendant can only be liable for the amount of compensatory damages proportionate to percentage of fault, but that was not the law in February 2015.
“We believe that there’s a very strong possibility that Mrs. Ankrom will be able to collect the entire verdict from Walmart and, if not the entire verdict, certainly a significant part of it,” Bordas said.
Wood County Circuit Court Judge J.D. Beane presided over the trial which lasted for five days.