A jury in Tyler, Texas, recently determined Walmart was responsible for injuries suffered by a subcontractor who was struck by a shoplifter’s car as the thief fled the parking lot.
The 10-1 verdict, which was returned July 27 after about five hours of deliberation, awarded Scott Lacy $4.3 million in damages and found Walmart 80 percent liable for the July 2020 incident, while the shoplifter, Herbert Vanderkinter, was 17 percent liable and Lacy 3 percent liable. Vanderkinter has been convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Smith County District Judge Reeve Jackson presided over the case that began with jury selection July 24.
Lacy, who was working at the store in Tyler as a subcontractor assembling items in the garden center, joined a group of three Walmart employees who tried to stop and restrain Vanderkinter as he tried to leave the store with a shopping cart “full of merchandise,” according to the lawsuit that was filed in December 2021.
“Pursuant to the Walmart employee’s directive, plaintiff pursued the shoplifter into the parking lot with the three Walmart employees, ultimately detaining him and allowing the Walmart employees to obtain the shoplifter’s information and retrieve the merchandise in the shopping cart,” according to the lawsuit. “Upon further instruction of one of the Walmart employees, plaintiff then released the suspected shoplifter.”
Lacy and the employees began walking back into the store.
“At that point, the suspected shoplifter struck plaintiff with his motor vehicle at a high rate of speed and catapulted plaintiff into a pole,” the suit alleges.
Lacy’s ankle was shattered, which required multiple surgeries to repair, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Walmart issued a statement to The Lawbook arguing that the injuries suffered by Lacy, who the retailer said “chased and fought” with Vanderkinter, weren’t forseeable.
“Mr. Lacy was not employed by Walmart, and he was never directed to pursue the shoplifter,” the statement reads. “We continue to wish Mr. Lacy well and while his injuries were unfortunate, the jury’s verdict is excessive and not supported by the evidence. We are considering our options, including filing post-trial motions.”
Walmart’s policy, known as AP-09, prohibits employees from approaching, pursuing or detaining a shoplifter.
Jack Walker of Martin Walker, who represented Lacy, called Walmart’s policy a good one that, if followed, would have prevented his client’s injuries.
“It’s the fact that they need to train on it, they need to enforce it, they need to make sure their employees understand it,” he said.
The jury heard Walmart didn’t adequately train its employees on the policy, and the lawsuit alleged that the store manager in a deposition said she didn’t fully understand the policy.
Lacy is also represented by Marisa Allen of Martin Walker and Michael Richardson and Lauren Gonzales of Hilliard Law.
Walmart is represented by Edward L. Merritt and Jessica M. LaRue of Harbour, Smith, Harris & Merritt.
The case number is 21-2858-B.