Black Friday is behind us, but shopping-related injuries and altercations continue.
On Sunday, shoplifting turned deadly after a middle-aged man was allegedly caught stealing DVD players at a Lithonia Walmart, Channel 2 Action News reports. A chase ensued, and employees detained the man after a scuffle.
When police arrived, however, the suspect was dead. If the victim has surviving family members, Walmart could soon be facing a wrongful death lawsuit.
The man reportedly walked out of the store carrying two DVD players. Two sales associates and a security guard caught up with him in the parking lot and a physical altercation ensued. The security guard allegedly put the man in a chokehold.
When a police officer arrived, he noticed that the man was unresponsive and bleeding from his nose and mouth. He was taken to DeKalb Medical-Hillandale Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death hasn't yet been determined.
The two store employees involved have since been suspended with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation. The security officer will no longer be providing services for the store, a Walmart spokeswoman said in a statement.
"Our associates are trained that the safety of our customers and our associates is our first priority. No amount of merchandise is worth someone's life," Walmart's statement said. "Associates are trained to disengage from situations that would put themselves or others at risk."
Walmart could potentially be sued under a theory of respondeat superior, or vicarious liability. Under the doctrine, an employer can be held liable for the wrongdoings of an employee if they were committed within the scope of employment.
The workers involved here were on the clock when the incident took place. On top of that, they were acting in the interests of their employer when they tackled the shoplifter.
On the other hand, Walmart may be off the hook for the security guard's actions, since security guards are often independent contractors rather than employees. In general, employers aren't responsible for the negligence of independent contractors, only that of their employees.
If the victim's family can show that the employees caused the man's death through the use of excessive force, they may be awarded damages for medical expenses, funeral costs, his lost wages, and the loss of consortium.
- Find an Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer (FindLaw)
- Walmart Death: Alleged Shoplifter Dies After Altercation With Employees (The Huffington Post)
- Wrongful Death Overview (FindLaw)
- Wife Sues Hospital After Husband Dies of Drug Overdose (FindLaw's Atlanta Injury Law Blog)