Man drives car into light pole in Wal-Mart parking lot

by Walter Olson on December 5, 2010

Is the parking lot of the Newington, N.H. “normal[ly] configured,” had there been earlier drivers who bumped into the pole, and should either point matter in the lawsuit he’s filed as a result? [Seacoast Online via Siouxsie Law]


1 VMS 12.05.10 at 11:21 am

At first blush, this appears to be a shake-down case forcing Walmart to send an expensive attorney to small claims court (probably multiple times) with witnesses to fight a $2918 claim in the hope that Walmart settles, does not show up, or caves in.

With that said, there are not enough facts in the stories to make an absolute determination as to whether Walmart has any liability, but there are scenarios where the fact that earlier drivers bumped into the pole would matter because it could have placed Walmart on notice that it had a dangerous condition on its premises. Although a pole in general would seem to be an open and obvious obstruction and it would be 100% the fault of an inattentive driver for running into the pole, this particular pole’s color against a similarly colored background, lack of lighting at night, or any number of correctable conditions within the control of Walmart could increase Walmart’s comparatively negligent for its failure to take any action if it knew about the unsafe condition.

In a hypothetical, if a parking lot had a black pole with no lighting in a dark section of the lot and was on notice that over the past year 10 cars hit that pole causing damage, I would say that their percentage of negligence would be much greater than if it were a single occurrence.

When I was in college there was a low underpass on a main thoroughfare, we students affectionately called the “truck eating bridge.” Does the City after having trucks destroyed several times per month have a duty to the users of its roads to act to lessen the carnage of trucks, even though thousands of truck drivers see the low clearance signs and properly avoid the underpass? [putting up flashing lights and hanging chains lessened the frequency of destroyed trucks, but did not solve the problem completely].

As for the lot not being “normally configured,” I believe that Walmart is under no duty to “normally configure” its lots.

2 Mannie 12.05.10 at 12:33 pm

I can’t tell from the photo in the article, whether the lot is “normally configured” whatever that actually means. But the pole bases are painted bright yellow, and should be visible to anyone who can pass the vision test. Maybe they should have put a light atop it. {/snark}

Wally World should counter sue him for damage to the pole and for the structural inspection required because of his impact. He should also be subject to a Lifetime Ban from all Wally World properties. (Yeah some would call that a benefit.)

3 John Burgess 12.05.10 at 12:52 pm

Since when is ‘inattentive driver’ an out for having an accident? Isn’t that an aggravating condition?

4 roy 12.05.10 at 2:26 pm

Previous crashes don’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with the pole. There are thousands of Wal-Marts in the country, with hundreds of poles each. There would be some with higher-than-usual impacts even if by chance.

Note: numbers totally made up.

5 Bill Poser 12.05.10 at 2:47 pm

At least in this case the damage claim is reasonable, even if the liability claim isn’t.

6 Bob Lipton 12.05.10 at 4:48 pm

Bill, if the liability is not reasonable, how can the damage be?

If you think it reasonable, gimme a dollar.


7 Bill Poser 12.05.10 at 10:19 pm

Bob, what I mean is that, insofar as someone other than the driver is liable (which is probably not the case), the amount of damages claimed is reasonable.

8 Bob Lipton 12.05.10 at 11:06 pm

If you mean that the monetary damages is in line with the actual physical damages, then I agree, but given the assumption that the claims are frivolous — in the human, rather than the legal sense — then any awards are unreasonable.

Otherwise, I want that dollar.


9 Richard Nieporent 12.06.10 at 8:37 am

Bob, what I mean is that, insofar as someone other than the driver is liable (which is probably not the case), the amount of damages claimed is reasonable.

Not really. I just checked with and the value of a 1997 Chevrolet S10 ranges from $1365 to $2065. If this was an insurance claim the car would have been considered totaled and he would have gotten only the actual value of the truck.

10 L Nettles 12.06.10 at 8:39 am

Yeah, I hate driving between the lines. Popcorn driving in a natural right.

11 Lesley Stevens 12.06.10 at 6:50 pm

Aside to VMS: Did you go to the University of Iowa?

12 Bill Poser 12.07.10 at 4:05 pm

Richard@I’m not sure that it is fair to base the damages on what an insurance company would have done. As you say, insurance companies prefer to write off the vehicle if repairing it would be more expensive, but people do have attachments to particle vehicles (and to models which they may not be able readily to replace), and they may also be of the view that repair is environmentally the better approach. They may also not be in a position to buy a new(er) vehicle. Therefore, the owner may well be considered reasonable in wanting to repair his vehicle rather than write it off. The general principal in tort is the the victim should be “made whole”, and that doesn’t necessarily have to mean “what an insurance company would have done”.

13 Bill Poser 12.07.10 at 4:05 pm

For “particle” read “particular” above.

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