PARKERSBURG — A Wood County jury has awarded nearly $17 million to a woman who was injured at Walmart when employees were attempting to detain a shoplifter.
The Wood Circuit Court jury returned the verdict of $16,922,000 against Walmart and the shoplifter after deliberating for less than two hours March 4. The jury found Walmart to be 30 percent responsible for the incident and the shoplifter to be 70 percent responsible.
"This happened when Diane Ankrom was 48 and she's now 52," Jamie Bordas of Bordas & Bordas said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "She going to have a lifetime of issues she's going to have to contend with as a result of Walmart's conduct."
Bordas said Ankrom has had multiple surgeries and more than 20 hospital admissions because Walmart failed to follow industry best practices and its own written policies with respect to the detention of shoplifters.
"We're really pleased that the jury was able to recognize that profits shouldn't be put over the safety of its customers," Bordas said. "The evidence at trial showed that Walmart created a culture where profits were more important than safety."
Bordas said despite written policies with respect to how the detention of shoplifters should be handled, Walmart didn't follow those policies.
"In reality, they had a competitive atmosphere where shoplifter apprehensions were tracked on grease boards outside of their office and they would determine who had the most each month," Bordas said. "Awards would be given for asset protection associates of the quarter and the year. This wasn't just at this one particular store, this was across the market and district."
Bordas said the competitive atmosphere promoted the detention of shoplifters at all costs regardless of the safety consequences of it.
"Unfortunately, Ms. Ankrom, a customer, was badly injured," Bordas said. "The jury had an opportunity to hear from leaders of the industry with respect to how things should be done."
Bordas said Walmart's own corporate representative, who wasn't at trial but was deposed, testified that this shouldn't have been done.
"That just goes to demonstrate the differences between their written policies and what's happening in reality in the stores," Bordas said. "Our hope with this verdict is that not only will Ms. Ankrom be compensated for the losses she suffered, but that perhaps Walmart will do something to change its practices so that others don't get hurt in the future."
A Walmart corporate spokesman said the company was sympathetic to Ankrom's situation.
“However, we strongly believe our associates did nothing wrong and followed company policy," Randy Hargrove told The Record. "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.
"We are evaluating all our options, including post-trial motions and an appeal.”
Bordas said he's seen those comments in the media.
"That's very troubling because that's the first indication that perhaps they aren't getting the message and are not recognizing that safety needs to come first over profits for the company," Bordas said.
The jury verdict included $6.5 million dollars in past and future medical expenses and more than $10 million in general damages.
The verdict is believed to be one of the largest, if not the largest, verdicts in the history of Wood County on behalf of a single plaintiff, according to a Bordas & Bordas press release.
In February 2015, Ankrom was at the South Parkersburg Walmart with her granddaughter when a shoplifter was stopped in the vestibule near the exit after stealing gloves.
After the gloves were returned and the shoplifter detained, he attempted to flee again and ran into Ankrom's cart, knocking her to the floor and her cart on top of her. Her granddaughter was also thrown from the cart.
John Artimez, also of Bordas & Bordas and Wood County attorney Todd Wiseman assisted Bordas with the case.
Philip Sbrolla and Matthew Schrebe of the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Cipriani & Werner defended Walmart.
Wood Circuit Court Judge J.D. Beane presided over the five-day trial.