Ed Betz/AP
Wal-Mart, Valley Stream, N.Y.

Family Sues Wal-Mart for Black Friday Trampling Death

December 04, 2008 04:19 PM
by Denis Cummings
The family of the man trampled to death by shoppers has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wal-Mart, claiming that its advertising incited crowd violence.

Wrongful-Death Lawsuit Filed Against Wal-Mart

The family of Jdimytai Damour, the 34-year-old man who was trampled to death Nov. 28 in a Long Island Wal-Mart, is suing Wal-Mart for failing to provide adequate security and for creating a “crowd craze” through its promotions.

Damour was a temporary Wal-Mart employee who was working to control the crowd lined up early that morning for Wal-Mart’s “Black Friday” discounts. Shortly after the store’s scheduled 5:00 a.m. opening, an estimated 2,000 shoppers rushed into the store, trampling Damour and crushing him to death. He was pronounced dead, likely of asphyxiation, at 6:03 a.m.

Wal-Mart, like many retailers, holds special promotions on the day after Thanksgiving to mark the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Many retailers open early and offer discounts on a limited number of products, encouraging shoppers to line up outside the store before it opens and rush inside for deals.

These Black Friday promotions, also known as “doorbusters,” have turned violent in the past, though the National Retail Federation told the Associated Press that Damour’s was the first-ever Black Friday death.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx, contends that Wal-Mart “engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem and was otherwise careless, reckless and negligent,” according to the AP.

It also states that Wal-Mart failed to provide enough security to handle the crowd. Damour, likely due to his 6-foot-5, 270-pound body, was given significant responsibility in controlling the crowd even though he had only worked at the store for a week and had no crowd-control experience.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey called the Black Friday scene a “recipe for disaster.” He said that, even though police had warned retailers two weeks before that they were responsible for providing adequate security and crowd control, “there were not adequate protocols” in place at Wal-Mart.

Opinion & Analysis: Who’s to blame?

Many writers, politicians and industry experts have blamed Wal-Mart management, and Black Friday promotions in general, for Damour’s death. Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary holds Wal-Mart responsible for inciting the chaos. “Increasingly, these door-busting sales attract crazy crowds. And why are they crazy? Because they know the retailers often carry only a limited number of the sale items,” she writes.

Burt Flickinger III of the retail marketing consultancy Strategic Resource Group argues that retailers should increase the supply of discount items in order to decrease competition among shoppers. He and his father unsuccessfully pushed for legislation in New York that would have required stores to carry ample supplies of heavily promoted items.

Flickinger also suggested that stores hand out “deli-style” numbers to shoppers waiting in lines so that the need to race to an item is eliminated. An editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune also endorses this tactic, which has been used by retailers Target and Best Buy.

“An employee works the line before the store’s opening, handing out the prized tickets to customers who have waited the longest,” writes the Star Tribune. “When the doors open, there’s no mad scramble to claim a doorbuster. Nor are there fights over whose it is—one common cause of Black Friday altercations.”

Wal-Mart’s lack of security has also been blamed. New York City Councilman James Gennaro announced Monday that he was going to draft a “Doorbuster Bill” that would require retailers to hire security officers trained to control crowds for events like Black Friday.

The National Retail Federation argues that legislation is unnecessary, telling Bloomberg news that the Wal-Mart incident “certainly is not representative of what is happening in other parts of the country.”

Though Wal-Mart’s planning for Black Friday may have been lacking, no one has excused the actions of the crowd. Singletary writes that the shoppers “lost their humanity in the quest for a bargain,” while radio talk show host Mark Davis believes that the shoppers are entirely to blame for Damour’s death.

“Low prices don’t make sane people go berserk in a store,” he writes in the Dallas Morning News. “Bad behavior is bad behavior, practiced by people who make the conscious choice to engage in it.”

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