Local Man Takes on Big Grocery Store Chain and is Awarded $19 Million

It was a hot Texas day in Duval County when 71-year-old Roy Canales walked into the Lowe’s Market in Freer to buy a watermelon.  The date was May 4, 2015, and Lowe’s, the only grocery store in town, was running a special sale on the melons.

As he walked up to one of the big boxes of watermelons to pick one out his foot got stuck in a pallet. Roy didn’t realize it until he had already chosen his fruit and was ready to go pay. With a melon in hand, Roy tried to move forward, but his boot wouldn’t budge. So instead, he fell to the floor shattering his right elbow and injuring his neck.

Fortunately, he was able to get up from his accident. And he reported it immediately to the cashier. Sucking on a lollipop and chatting on her phone, the cashier showed little concern for Roy’s injuries. The manager on duty also spoke with Roy. But she was more focused on filling out an incident report than she was tending to the retired army veteran’s needs.

The Lowe’s Market employees told him that his injuries didn’t look that bad and they asked him to sign off on an incident report.  Neither one showed empathy nor called an EMT to examine Roy’s injuries.

When Roy arrived back home his wife took him to a local doctor in Alice. Roy’s injuries were so bad that the local doctor recommended he go to the VA hospital in San Antonio. So Roy and his wife traveled to Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital.

As it turns out, his injuries were severe. He was admitted to the hospital and underwent surgery within a few days. This was only the beginning of the medical issues related to the watermelon incident. Roy underwent multiple more surgeries to heal his elbow, neck, and back, including a disk replacement surgery almost two years later.

After the accident, a friend of the Canales family recommended that Roy contact personal injury attorney Jason DeSouza about the incident and the unfair treatment by Lowe’s.

DeSouza and his team uncovered substantial evidence to demonstrate to a jury that the grocery store should be held responsible for his client’s accident.

They left no stone unturned when it came to figuring out what exactly happened. Their findings and the information presented to the jury were very interesting.

First, even after Roy was injured by the watermelon pallet, the store employees did nothing to remove the pallet or make it safer for other customers. In fact, they left it exactly where it was.

Perhaps this is because they were too busy trying to doctor the evidence of the accident.

When DeSouza asked to see the video footage from inside the store, Lowe’s was only able to produce video leading up to the fall, and video after the fall. They claimed to have no footage of when Roy actually fell to the floor.  In fact, their video only captured six of the eleven minutes that had lapsed.

The video didn’t show Roy’s fall; however, it did reveal how he was treated by the Lowe’s employees after the accident. The jury sat and watched as the cashier sucked on her lollipop and the on-duty manager focused more on filling out the incident report then she was seeing to it that the 71-year-old Roy was okay.

When DeSouza inquired to Lowe's corporate team at the trial about Roy’s treatment, they admitted that Lowe’s does not train its employees on how to care for injured customers as it was too much work.

Ironically, the grocery store chain’s website claims that its “operating philosophy has been to take care of the community…” and that its “stores have some of the most caring and wonderful people in the grocery business who are committed to meeting the needs of our customers.”

If that is truly how this big chain operates, then it clearly overlooked the Freer store. Not only was Roy treated carelessly, and the video doctored, the staff at Lowe’s staged a series of photos.

DeSouza was quick to catch this given that the placement of things in the pictures were different from the video. For example, on the day Roy fell, there were three watermelon pallets. However, the photos only showed two. There was also a new display for Mother’s Day in the photos – which wasn’t in the video.

What was the store trying to hide?

As the trial went on, DeSouza pointed out more holes in Lowe's defense. When he questioned them about the safety of the pallets, the store admitted that they never inspected them for holes, splinters, loose nails, or any other potential safety hazard.

Not surprisingly, Roy Canales wasn’t the first person to get injured by a watermelon pallet.  Nearly one year earlier, another man broke his hip in an Alabama Wal-Mart after reaching into a pallet to purchase a watermelon. Similar to Roy, his foot became lodged in the pallet and before he knew it, he crashed to the ground and broke his hip. A jury awarded him $7.5 million.

The Wal-Mart Watermelon case was well known in the grocery store, especially those who were members of the National Grocers Association (NGA). In fact, at a recent NGA convention, there was a new product, called a pallet guard, on display and available for grocery store chains to purchase that would protect customers from harmful pallet accidents. It’s a simple mechanism that easily snaps on to a pallet while in use in a grocery store.

During the trial, DeSouza pointed out that Lowe’s Market has a corporate team member on the board of the NGA, and so it is highly likely that he and the company were aware that such a product exists.

After listening to all of the evidence that DeSouza and his team presented against Lowe’s, the jury had to determine who was at fault for the accident. They decided that 70% of the blame went to Lowe’s Market and 30% to Roy Canales. Since Lowe’s was partially responsible, they had to answer three more questions:

They jury mulled over these questions and a verdict was reached in favor of Roy Canales. $6.325 million for compensatory damages and $13 million for punitive damages. All in all, the DeSouza team was able to help the Roy Canales win $19.325 million in damages against Lowe’s Market.

DeSouza Law Firm is a leading personal injury firm representing accident victims throughout Texas.

If you’ve been injured by a car, truck, 18 wheeler, company vehicle, or in the oilfield, call DeSouza Injury Lawyers today at 361-799-2222.