TN Court of Appeals Upholds $850,000 Personal Injury Judgment Against Kroger
In August 2016, an 88-year-old Shelby County woman and her daughter went shopping at their local Kroger. After spending about a half-hour in the store, the woman turned her loaded shopping cart to the right. The cart suddenly tipped over, causing the woman to fall to the floor.
The fall seriously injured the woman’s hip and fractured a bone. She required surgery to repair the hip and a four-day hospital stay, followed by two weeks in a rehabilitation facility, and another six weeks of in-home rehabilitation. Altogether, the woman incurred approximately $90,000 in medical bills.
While the surgery was considered successful, the aftermath of the accident nevertheless permanently changed the woman’s life for the worse. Prior to the accident, she was living independently. But now, she was no longer able to drive, perform household chores, or even stand for extended periods of time.
As it turned out, the shopping cart that caused the woman’s fall was later found with only three wheels. Kroger employees searched but said they were unable to find the missing fourth wheel. Based on this and other information, the victim sued Kroger in Tennessee state court, alleging its negligence in allowing customers to use a defective cart was the proximate cause of her injuries.
The case was tried before a jury in January 2019. Kroger attempted to shift the blame to a third-party company that serviced its shopping carts. But the trial judge held there was insufficient evidence to support this claim. Ultimately, the jury determined that Kroger was 100 percent responsible for the accident and awarded the victim $100,000 in economic damages and another $2.6 million in non-economic damages. The judge reduced the non-economic damages to $750,000, which is the maximum allowed under Tennessee law.
Kroger still appealed this reduced verdict. But on July 16 of this year, the Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected the appeal and upheld the jury’s verdict. The appeals court’s extensive opinion can be briefly summarized as follows:
- Kroger argued there was insufficient evidence to even submit this case to the jury in the first place. The Court of Appeals strongly disagreed, noting that there was “little dispute” the accident was caused by the defective shopping cart, a “dangerous condition” that was wholly within Kroger’s control. In fact, Kroger’s own employees testified at trial that company policy was to remove defective shopping carts from circulation, as they posed a known risk to customers.
- Kroger argued the jury should have been allowed to consider the third-party cart servicing company’s relative fault for the accident. Again, the Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that Kroger failed to present any evidence that the shopping cart in question was ever actually serviced by the third-party company.
- Kroger said the judge should have ordered a new trial after the jury improperly asked if it could award punitive damages. This issue was never presented to the jury, and the judge answered that punitive damages were not part of the case. Kroger did not object to this answer at the time–but before the Court of Appeals, the company insisted the question alone tainted the jury’s final verdict. The Court of Appeals rejected that line of thinking.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Large companies like Kroger will often spare no expense to avoid paying out a substantial damages award. This is why if you have been seriously hurt in an accident like the one described above, you need to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney who will zealously represent your interests. Contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today.