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Cheeks v. AutoZone – Pedestrian/Vehicle Crash Leads to Premises Liability Lawsuit

When searching for a car accident lawyer, it’s important to understand how someone with extensive experience in different realms of law can further your interests tremendously. That’s because so many cases have factual elements that cause the central arguments to veer off into other areas of law. For example, a trucking crash lawsuit against a carrier could result in disputes over the employment status of the driver. In other situations, a crash in private driveway or parking lot could result in a premises liability lawsuit.
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That was the case recently in Cheeks v. AutoZone, Inc., where a pedestrian accident in Mississippi became a premises liability claim against the owner/operator of the store parking lot where the crash happened.

According to court records, plaintiff and a friend went to an auto parts store to buy parts to finish working on several vehicles, as they had been commissioned to do.The store had parking on either side of the building, with an angled storefront glass entryway. The main entrance had a raised sidewalk and several bollards (or thick posts) blocking the glass doorway.

Our Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyers understand where plaintiff parked and exited vehicle, there was no raised sidewalk or bollards. As plaintiff walked toward the doorway, he heard his friend shout a warning to “watch out!” He turned to see a vehicle just feet away, about to strike him. He had less than two seconds to react, and was unable to make it behind one of the concrete posts before he was struck by the vehicle. He suffered significant injuries.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver and the store. In deposition, store representatives described the bollards as “safety measures,” and indicated they, the elevated walkway and/or tire stops and curb stops were designed to protected pedestrians on the walkway immediately in front of the entrance.

The driver (who alleged he suffered a seizure) was dismissed from the lawsuit. (He had testified he was instructed by staffers to drive up under the store canopy for installation of windshield wipers when he lost control of the car, but store staffers denied giving him this instruction.)

Video of the incident showed plaintiff turning around and trying to jump behind a concrete post. A liability expert testifying on behalf of plaintiff opined that when people see those concrete posts, they interpret them as a safety feature, and further, plaintiff had no time to make any decision other than the one he did. Another expert witness for the plaintiff, a traffic and transportation engineer, testified that when bollards are put in one area, it must be done in all areas of an entrance because people who see them have an increased expectation of safety. That expert further asserted the store breached pedestrian safety by having a ramp up to the store entrance that was wide enough for cars to drive through. Had a bollard been in place there, the expert said, the vehicle, traveling at about 11-miles-per-hour, would have been stopped and the collision with plaintiff avoided.

However, an architect for the store testified the bollards were not designed to protect pedestrians, but rather in response to numerous “crash and grab” thefts this store and others similarly situated had experienced. Another purpose was to prevent cars from accidentally ramming the glass in the entryway, which he testified cost the chain about $2,000 weekly. He further asserted the store was in compliance with federal, state and municipal laws and codes, but did acknowledge a straight, unimpeded ramp through the entrance gap from the parking area.

A jury handed down a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, granting him $2.6 million in damages, with 45 percent of the liability apportioned to the store (and 55 percent to the non-party at-fault driver). That meant the store was responsible to pay $1.16 million.

The store filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding verdict, arguing the jury’s finding was erroneous. The trial court granted this motion in favor of the defendant, finding business owners are not required to put up protective and impassible barriers around their store.

Plaintiff appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, finding the jury had credible evidence to find the injury to plaintiff was reasonably foreseeable, and defendant had a duty to ensure the property was in reasonably safe condition for business invitees.

Therefore, the case was remanded for a new trial.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Cheeks v. AutoZone, Inc., Sept. 25, 2014, Car Accident Lawyer in Fort Lauderdale

More Blog Entries:
Williams v. GEICO – Challenging Step-Down Provisions in Auto Insurance Plans, Sept. 1, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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