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Shopper-on-shopper violence: Can you hold the store liable?

From the day after Thanksgiving until sometime in February when all the post-holiday returns have been made, the shopping centers and malls throughout the U.S. are generally busier than they are at any other time of the year. Unfortunately, the increased number of customers can lead to increased tensions between those customers—and that can erupt in violence.

When a business fails to pay attention to trends like shopper-on-shopper violence and doesn't take any steps to curb what's likely to be a problem, that can be a form of negligence known as inadequate security.

Many people think of inadequate security in the retail world as simply failing to protect customers from thieves who are ready to assault and rob them in the parking lot—but shopper-on-shopper violence has become increasingly common for decades now. Violent assaults between shoppers started to break out as far back as 1983, over Cabbage Patch Kids, which were the "it" toy of the season. Police were called to intervene on Black Friday as Walmart shoppers in Texas trampled over each other in a rush to get to the limited supply of dolls. At least 7 people have died as a result of Black Friday violence among shoppers since 2006 alone.

Tales of assaults between angry, frustrated shoppers fighting over specials and sales or trying to wade through long lines have become less and less shocking, which means that stores can and should be taking measures to reduce violence between customers during their busiest season:

— Having clearly defined lines for checkouts, layaway lines and return-only aisles helps prevent line jumpers.

—Making sure the registers are fully staffed and having enough supervisory employees on duty to make executive decisions can resolve minor disputes.

—Using a ticket system to give shoppers who arrive earliest a guarantee on their item of choice can reduce pushing.

—Keeping visible security officers on hand can provide a deterrent for many, who may be hesitant to act if they think they can be arrested on the spot.

If you've been the victim of shopper-on-shopper violence and you believe that the store could have done more to keep the premises safer, you can and should enlist the help of an attorney to try to hold the business liable for your injuries and losses.

Source: FindLaw, "Shopping Injuries Overview," accessed Dec. 14, 2016

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