Thursday, July 21, 2016
Judge decides in favor of Home Depot in Joplin Tornado lawsuit
In his ruling, which was issued today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Judge Douglas Harpool said Edie Housel's attorneys did not provide sufficient evidence for the case to continue:
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment turns on two disputed issues: (1) whether there is sufficient evidence to show that Home Depot breached a legal duty owed to the decedents, and (2) whether there is sufficient evidence to show that any breach by Home Depot caused the decedents’ deaths.1 Upon review of the evidence and arguments provided, the Court finds Plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Home Depot breached a duty that caused the decedents’ deaths.
The case was outlined in Harpool's decision:
On May 22, 2011, Edie Housel ate dinner at McAllister’s Deli on Rangeline Road in Joplin, Missouri with her husband, Russell Howard, and their two children, Harli Howard, age five, and Hayze Howard, age nineteen months.
After they were finished eating, Edie headed to Freeman Hospital, where she was scheduled to work the night shift as a nurse. Edie and Russell spoke on their cell phones at 5:43 p.m. as the tornado sirens were going off. Russell told Edie that he was going inside the Joplin Home Depot store with the children. Russell’s truck was found under the canopy in front of the lumbar entrance of the Joplin Home Depot store.
The bodies of Russell and his two children were later found under the west wall panel in the southwest corner of the Joplin Home Depot store. Steve Cope testified that he saw the decedents’ bodies after the storm passed and the bodies were located at the base of the west wall, just inside the store, in a crouched position. He testified that the decedents’ bodies were found near the same vicinity as the body of Dean Wells, a Home Depot Employee, who was located approximately 20 to 30 feet east of the decedents’ bodies, closer to the back of the store.
As the tornado watches and warnings progressed on May 22, 2011, employees at the Joplin Home Depot store met and monitored the developing weather conditions.
When the tornado sirens went off for the first time, the Home Depot store manager sent a page over the intercom for associates and customers to be aware that a weather event was happening. The Home Depot management team conducted a sweep of the building to ensure that all customers were aware that they needed to move to the back of the building to the training room.
The management team members then posted to assigned areas of the store to maintain visualization and secure the entrances. Individuals from the area surrounding the store attempted to take refuge inside the Joplin Home Depot store up to the time the tornado struck.
When the weather appeared to worsen, and shortly after the second tornado siren sounded, the store manager sent another page for all associates to go back to the training room and to ensure that all customers were back in the training room.
The store manager testified that a short time later he saw a spark at the front entrance, the power went out, and the front glass doors blew in. At that time, the store manager was standing near the registers at the front entrance to the store and he immediately turned and ran in the dark straight to the training room; by the time he arrived at the training room, he stated the roof was coming off the building and the training room walls were leaning such that it was difficult to close the training room door.
Home Depot employee Jose Barbosa testified that he was standing near the kitchen and bath area when the store went dark and he felt the ground begin to shake and saw a growing hole in the roof; he stated that he used the flashlight on his phone to try to get back to the training room but he ended up at the women’s bathroom, which was no longer there, so he held onto the women’s bathroom door until the storm passed.
Another Home Depot employee, Joseph Cabalero, testified that he was running from the front entrance of the store to the training room area when the lights went out; he stated he then hit a beam, ended up in the carpet area where he found an associate and a customer, and then they all found their way back to the training room using a light on the associate’s phone. All of the individuals in the training room survived the tornado.
The National Weather Service rated the tornado as an EF-4 or EF-5 in vicinity of the Joplin Home Depot store, the MAT report ranked the tornado as an EF-4 at the location of the Joplin Home Depot store, and a National Institute of Standards and Technology investigation rated the tornado as an EF-3 at the Joplin Home Depot store.
A total of eight individuals reportedly perished inside the Joplin Home Depot store during the tornado, including Plaintiff’s three family members. Inspections showed that the building failure occurred at the welded connections; specifically, the roof welds came apart, the roofing system was ripped off of the store, and the tilt-in walls collapsed.
parties do not dispute that, due to the strength of the winds associated with the tornado, which exceeded wind speeds required by the Joplin building code, the roof of the Joplin Home Depot store was going to come off at some point during the tornado even if the alleged design and construction flaws did not exist. Plaintiff argues only that the building’s destruction would have been delayed had the building not suffered from the alleged flaws.