Corporate Eye

Walmart Faces Lawsuit After Black Friday Tragedy

If you haven’t heard the story already, here’s a recap – a New York Walmart store held the retail giant’s Black Friday promotion as advertised.  In fact, the event was heavily advertised as a day when Walmart stores would open before the sun rose, and quick and savvy shoppers could get their hands on many hot items at very attractive discount prices.  The goal of the ads was certainly to create a sense of urgency and boost store traffic.  The result – one death as a Walmart employee was trampled and four other people were injured and taken to the hospital when desperate bargain shoppers broke through the electronic doors as the store opened.

Apparently, this is not the first time Walmart has been involved in this type of trampling incident, but it does appear to be the first that ended up with a person dying.  The question is whether or not companies like Walmart, which have trusted brand names and the deep pockets to afford wide-reaching ad campaigns to which consumers respond, are responsible for the New York Walmart employee’s death. 

The employee’s family has filed a lawsuit against Walmart, the retail shopping center where the tragedy took place, and the security company that is responsible for safety at the shopping center.  The lawsuit claims that Walmart created an ad campaign that intentionally drew a very large crowd and incited an atmosphere of frenzy and desperation by offering deep discounts on a limited amount of merchandise.

There is certainly no doubt that Walmart’s campaign was intended to draw a big crowd and create an atmosphere of urgency.  The “while supplies last” line is used by many retailers to elicit immediate action among consumers, and every year during the holiday season there are certain products and sales that generate a lot of attention, a lot of people, and a lot of fighting for store stock (think of the annual “must-have toy” like the Nintendo Wii in 2007). 

The atmosphere that happened at the New York Walmart is not unlike the mayhem that often ensued in the 1970s and 1980s when general admission was the norm at concerts held at large arenas.  It took many deaths before the general admission ticket was deemed too dangerous and removed from U.S. ticketing options. 

Now the question appears to be – will the same fate hit sale events?  Will sales event marketing change in light of the events at a New York Walmart or the results of the lawsuit on behalf of the Walmart employee who died?  Whatever happens in the lawsuit, these events should be a wakeup call for companies and brands to take responsibility for the effects their ads have on consumers. 

What do you think?

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

Where there no cameras? I want to see those who trampled the employee held responsible.

If someone beats someone with a hammer, you don’t sue the company that made the hammer!

Does it suck that Wallmart only puts a few items on the shelf, sure. But to use that as some sort of reasoning behind crushing a person under your feet, is PATHETIC.

I was shopping at Walmart on Black Friday this past year (2008) for the first time. I went to the Walmart in Houston, Texas off of 1960. The experience was one that I will never forget and it was indeed traumatic. Customers surrounded the merchandise and blocked the aisles. There was no security that I could see. A woman screamed before 5am and then a riot broke out. I attempted to basically run for my life and secure a safe place away from the frenzy but no where was safe in that store. If my friend had not been there with me, who happens to be male, I would not have gotten anything at all. People were running around the store in total madness and one guy ran his basket full of a huge HDTV straight into my left side. I still have not recovered. I will never go to Black Friday events again and I have horrible flashbacks when entering Walmart. Needless to say, I try not to go to Walmart at all and instead go to safer stores such as Target and Kohl’s.

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