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Wal-Mart Fights Trampling Case Fine

July 7, 2010

Bad PR……Bad PR  What is new?  This is Wal-Mart, after all.

Wal-Mart Stores has spent a year and more than a million dollars in legal fees battling a $7,000 fine that federal safety officials assessed after shoppers trampled a Wal-Mart employee to death at a store on Long Island on the day after Thanksgiving in 2008.  Wal-Mart Stores has spent a year and more than a million dollars in legal fees battling a $7,000 fine that federal safety officials assessed after shoppers trampled a Wal-Mart employee to death at a store on Long Island on the day after Thanksgiving in 2008.

The mystery, federal officials say, is why Wal-Mart is fighting so hard against such a modest fine.

But in fighting the federal fine, Wal-Mart is arguing that the government is improperly trying to define “crowd trampling” as an occupational hazard that retailers must take action to prevent.

Wal-Mart’s all-out battle against the relatively minor penalty has mystified and even angered some federal officials. In contesting the penalty, Wal-Mart has filed 20 motions and responses totaling nearly 400 pages and has spent at least $2 million on legal fees, according to OSHA’s calculations.

The dispute has become so heated — and Wal-Mart’s defense so vigorous — that officials at OSHA, an arm of the Labor Department, complain that they have had to devote huge numbers of staff time to the case, including 4,725 hours of work by employees in the legal office.

The company has made so many demands that Labor Department officials said they would not discuss the case except on condition of anonymity because they feared being subpoenaed about their discussions with a reporter.

On Wednesday, the dispute will reach a climax of sorts: Wal-Mart’s lawyers are scheduled to contest the fine before a federal appeals commission.

OSHA levied the $7,000 fine in response to the death of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary employee, who died from asphyxiation when a stampede of post-Thanksgiving shoppers at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y., busted through the doors and trampled him just before the store’s 5 a.m. scheduled opening. The crowd, estimated at 2,000 people, had been lined up for hours near a handwritten sign that said “Blitz Line Starts Here.”

In May 2009, OSHA accused Wal-Mart of failing to provide a place of employment that was “free from recognized hazards.” Specifically, the agency said the company violated its “general duty” to employees by failing to take adequate steps to protect them from a situation that was “likely to cause death or serious physical harm” because of “crowd surge or crowd trampling.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, says that regulators are trying to enforce a vague standard of protection when there was no previous OSHA or retail industry guidance on how to prevent what it views as an “unforeseeable incident.”

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