Negligence charge against Walmart in stabbing reinstated

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    Reprints

    Walmart

    A federal appeals court overturned a lower court Thursday and reinstated a negligence charge against Walmart Inc. in connection with a customer’s stabbing outside its store.

    Walmart employee Patricia Harjo and her husband Roy Harjo were arguing and fighting outside a Walmart store in Shawnee, Oklahoma, when 17-year-old Dillion Burge, who did not know the couple,  intervened to protect Ms. Harjo, even though a manager allegedly warned him not to do so, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in Dillion Allen Burge et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.

    Mr. Harjo pulled a knife and stabbed Mr. Burge twice, the ruling said. Mr. Burge was taken to a hospital and survived.

    Mr. Burge sued Walmart for negligence. The U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City granted Walmart summary judgment, holding Walmart had no reason “to know that Mr. Harjo had a knife or was going to stab Mr. Burge with it,” the decision said.

    The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel. “The district court erred when analyzing whether Walmart owed a duty to Mr. Burge,” the ruling said. “It framed the question too narrowly when it asked whether Walmart could foresee a stabbing by Mr. Harjo.

    “It should have asked whether an assault by Mr. Harjo was foreseeable,” it said, in reversing the lower court’s ruling and remanding the case.

    Mr. Burge’s attorney, Christian M. Zeaman of Christian M. Zeaman P.C. in Edmond, Oklahoma, said in a statement, “I believe the 10th Circuit analyzed the facts and applied the relevant case law perfectly. I was really impressed with the 10th Circuit Justices’ knowledge of the case, and the language in the ruling reflects the time they spent analyzing the facts.

    “And most importantly, this ruling will serve as a wake-up call to others, and that always results in changes that will make our community safer than it was yesterday. In the end, that is what we are all striving for.”

    Walmart’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment. 

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