Verdict Includes $1 Million in Punitive Damages
Late Friday afternoon, a Portland jury issued a punishing verdict against a Safeway store in the case of an 85-year- old customer who suffered a fractured femur when he slipped on spilled liquid detergent that an assistant manager described as being “throughout the store.”
Christopher Armstrong-Stevenson was a regular shopper at the St. Helens Safeway store when he was hurt. The jury awarded the full amount requested: $102,000 for medical expenses, $525,000 for pain and disability and $1 million in punitive damages.
Portland law firm Kafoury & McDougal wrote to Safeway shortly after the accident and requested that they preserve all video from in and around the store at the time of the incident. Safeway refused and allowed the systematic recycling of video from all but two of the more than 20 video cameras in the store, thereby concealing the extent of the spill when Safeway employees first learned of the spill and what was done once the spill was discovered.
Paperwork completed by the store and sent off by Safeway’s risk management indicated that the spill was “only two inches in diameter” and had been on the floor for less than two minutes. Testimony by Safeway employees was riddled with contradictions. While some employees testified that they believed one should never leave a spill unguarded, others – including the store director – saw no problem in walking away from a spill in order enter a large back area of the store and fetch a mop and a bucket of water.
In fact, videos showed that a courtesy clerk was told that there was a “soaking mess by the dairy area” and ordered “to go clean it up.”
Video testimony indicated that the clerk walked past the spill where Armstrong-Stevenson was about to be hurt and entered through a swinging door to go into the back area to get a mop. Just past the swinging door were stacks of yellow cones that could have been used to mark the site of the spill and an intercom which could have been used to alert customers and employees throughout the store of the scope of the problem.
All 12 jurors stayed for nearly an hour after the verdict in order to meet with Safeway’s attorney. Witness said that the jurors all expressed profound disappointment in the company’s apparent lack of policy to deal with spills and in their concealment and destruction of evidence after the injury.