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Jury awards $2M to man hurt shopping for dog food at Walmart

A Cumberland County jury has awarded $2 million to a man who was seriously injured when several 50-pound bags of dog food fell on his head while he was shopping at a Walmart in Hope Mills.

Brent Adams of Dunn said that his client, John Cain, was shopping for dog food, and the store had laid out two piles of bags of it, one roughly seven feet high, and the other much shorter. When Cain bent over to pick up a bag from the shorter pile, five or six bags tumbled off the taller pile onto him, knocking him to the floor.

Cain declined medical help and began driving himself home, but on the way home he became nauseous and vomited. After he got home, a friend insisted on taking Cain to a local VA hospital, where he was treated. Upon returning home, Cain was unable to get out of bed for two or three weeks and stayed close to home for several weeks thereafter. Before the injury Cain had been very active, helping his son in the concrete business and going horseback riding with friends nearly every weekend, but after the injury he stopped riding altogether and curtailed other physical activities, Adams said.

Cain sued Walmart, alleging negligence. Adams said that Cain came to his office only shortly before the expiration of the statute of limitations, and so attorneys didn’t have an opportunity to guide his health care, all of which was provided by the VA hospital and a few civilian providers the VA referred him to. Adams said that federal regulations make VA doctors essentially impossible to subpoena for deposition or trial, and none of the civilian doctors to whom Cain was referred took any real interest in him or his case.

Adams thus asked a local retired orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Douglas McFarlane, to examine Cain and his medical records and render opinions concerning the nature and extent of his injuries. McFarlane testified that Cain had no herniated discs but suffered a 3.5-mm forward displacement of his C3 and C4 vertebrae, which implied a degree of instability that is permanent. At trial, McFarlane testified that Cain could not lift more than five pounds at a time and had been in pain every day since the incident and would suffer physical pain and mental suffering every day for the remainder of his life.

Walmart initially had the case removed to federal court, but the parties later agreed to have it returned back to state court. Adams said that shortly before the trial started, Walmart’s attorney indicated that the company would stipulate negligence, and just before the first day of trial it indicated that it would abandon its defense of contributory negligence, so the only issue that went to the jury was Cain’s damages.

Cain, who was 73 at the time of the trial and had a life expectancy of more than 12 years, had incurred no medical bills aside from a VA lien of about $7,000, so he waived any claim for medical expenses and successfully moved to prohibit any testimony from Walmart about medical bills.

Adams said 11 witnesses testified on Cain’s behalf, including McFarlane, a shopper who’d seen the bags fall onto Cain, and Cain’s three children, who testified about how their lives had been impacted by their father’s injuries. Adams said that Cain himself was very personable and well-liked by the jury, and this aided their case considerably. During his testimony, attorneys brought into court six 50-pound bags of dog food of the same brand that hit Cain, though Judge Graham Shirley, who presided over the trial, required that they be removed after Cain’s testimony.

In addition, Adams said that another crucial moment in the case came when Walmart provided its surveillance video showing the fall. The camera was a long distance from the scene of the fall and the video was very difficult to see, but Scott Dunlap of Legal Media experts was able to enhance the video and allow attorneys to run the video both in real time and in slow motion.

After a four-day trial, the jury returned the $2 million verdict in Cain’s favor on Jan. 17 after deliberating for a little more than an hour. Walmart’s highest pre-trial offer was $45,000, Adams said.

“He was significantly injured, and of course this verdict, it won’t give him back the life he had, but it will certainly help him,” Adams said.

Michael Washburn and Jonathan Martin of Brown Crump Vanore & Tierney in Raleigh represented Walmart. They could not be reached for comment on the verdict.

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan


Amount: $2 million

Injuries alleged: Anterolisthesis of C3 and C4 vertebrae and neck injuries

Case name: John Archie Cain v. Walmart Inc., Walmart Stores East LP, & Walmart Associates Inc.

Court: Cumberland County Superior Court

Case No.: 16 CVS 2067

Judge: Graham Shirley

Date of verdict: Jan. 17

Highest offer: $45,000

Most helpful experts: Dr. Douglas McFarlane of Fayetteville (orthopedic surgeon)

Attorneys for plaintiff: Brent Adams and Diana Devine of Brent Adams and Associates in Dunn

Attorneys for defendant: Michael Washburn and Jonathan Martin of Brown Crump Vanore & Tierney in Raleigh

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