Thursday, November 29, 2012

February 2015 date set for Joplin Tornado wrongful death lawsuit against Wal-Mart

Don't expect the first wrongful death lawsuit filed after the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado to be resolved any time soon.

A proposed schedule filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri indicates that nearly two years will be set aside just for the discovery process in the lawsuit filed by the widow and child of a tornado victim against Wal-Mart and the trial, expected to last two weeks, is scheduled for February 2015.

The two sides will have until September 30, 2014, to complete the discovery process:

This extended deadline is to allow for Defendant to collect  the  voluminous  medical records, investigative reports, information from various federal agencies  and due to the massive scale and impact of the tornado, the multiple investigating entities and the numerous experts needed on both sides
including the very likely potential to travel outside of Missouri for depositions.  

The wife and daughter of Joplin Tornado victim Stan Kirk, 62, an aircraft technician, filed the lawsuit.

The suit charges the company for not being prepared for the EF-5 tornado that destroyed the 15th Street Wal-Mart and for not having an adequate emergency plan.

According to the petition, Mr. Kirk went to Wal-Mart that day for a "golf-related item." The tornado siren sounded at 5:17 p.m. At some point between then and 5:24 p.m., Kirk "attempted to leave the store to return (to his) home" which was three miles away, "or a seven minute drive from the store and located in an area outside the path of the storm and untouched by the tornado."

The suit alleges "(Kirk) was forced to stay in the store and directed to an unsafe/improper location. Defendants had the responsibility to adequately design and construct the store, keep patrons safe during emergency, and design and implement a proper emergency plan."

The lawsuit accuses Wal-Mart of negligence. "Defendant Wal-Mart knew or should have known that Joplin Store No. 59 was located in an area that was at a high risk of tornadoes and violent wind."

It also says store officials knew or should have known that the building was "not constructed properly considering this increased risk of violent storms and tornadoes," and "knew or should have known there was not a proper emergency plan in place at the store, including a lack of signage and identified safe areas/tornado refuge areas.'

Wal-Mart should have known that customers forced to stay in the store "would be exposed to an increased risk of serious injury or death during violent storms."

The store was negligent in the following ways, according to the lawsuit:

a. Failing to allow Kirk to leave the store to seek shelter elsewhere

b. Failing to leave the doors unlocked to ensure access for emergency personnel

c. Failing to leave doors unlocked to ensure access for emergency personnel

d. Failing to address the increased potential for tornado hazard in construction of the store

e. Failing to have proper tornado refuge areas identified

f. Failing to have a proper safe room or tornado shelter

g. Failing to have proper signage regarding building design or other indicators for employees and patrons during emergencies

h. Failing to properly label safe areas

i. Failing to have emergency plans conspicuously displayed

j. Failing to direct all patrons to, and ensure all patrons were in safe areas

k. Failing to perform vulnerability assessments prior to storm

Store Manager Andy Martin is also charged with negligence for his actions during the storm, but an affidavit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court indicates Martin was on vacation when the tornado occurred.

Kirk's widow, Janice Kirk, and their daughter Jodelle are seeking "fair and reasonable" damages, interest and costs.

The Kirks are being represented by the Hersehewe Law Firm of Joplin.

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