Rebekah Blades, a successful 26-year-old Walmart manager, had half of her face removed after being impaled by a metal door frame at her facility. Blades, now disfigured and unable to work or take care of her daughter, is suing the contractor who installed these faulty metal door frames.
Walmart cannot be sued based on workers’ comp exclusivity grounds, but the contractor had a nondelegable duty to oversee its subcontractor, who is at fault in this case. The defense offered a settlement amount, however it wouldn’t even cover Blades’ medical bills, so they went to trial.
After four days at trial, the jury returned an astonishing $21 million award, all in compensatory damages. What’s even more fascinating about this award is that prior to this case, no jury in this jurisdiction had awarded damages above $250,000. It should also be noted that Blades’ attorney was asking for less than the amount the jury awarded.
On trial, Blades showed the jury surveillance tape of her accident. Her co-workers took the stand and filled in whatever details could not be seen by the tape. They stated that “she had no nose, just two holes in her skull. When she opened her mouth to talk, we could see over the top of her upper palate, and into her sinus cavity.”
After Blades was taken to the hospital, all 14 doors were inspected, and it turned out that all but two were unbolted. The contractor, Thermal Technologies Inc., sent a representative to make sure the subcontractor installed everything properly. However it wasn’t until the owner was on the stand under oath that he admitted responsibility for the subcontractor’s performance, or lack thereof.
Blades is at risk of epileptic seizures, and because of this, she cannot even be alone with her daughter. Because her doctors do not know the source of the seizures, she cannot elect to have brain surgery to mitigate her discomfort. Removing the wrong part of her brain could result in memory loss, blindness, or paralysis.
It’s unfortunate that someone’s negligence – perhaps laziness – while performing a job they get paid to do has lead to the permanent disfigurement and disability of an innocent person. Is this justice?
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