Douglasville resident Craig Walters, 49, received an award of $2,365,238.40 after a Gwinnett County judge determined that Kroger destroyed and manipulated evidence.
A jury awarded Walters the money Jan. 27 based on an incident that happened in May 2008 while he was shopping at the on Ridge Road in Douglasville.
“We are very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” Walters' lead attorney, Lloyd N. Bell, said in a news release. “Before this incident, Mr. Walters was a longtime, loyal customer of Kroger. But loyalty runs both ways, and it was only after Kroger refused to be held accountable for its negligence that Mr. Walters had to resort to a lawsuit.”
According to that news release from the Bell Law Firm, Walters slipped on some crushed fruit on the floor near the grocery's deli area and fell on his back. He suffered a spinal injury that required back-fusion surgery and the placement of rods and screws to stabilize his spine.
Bell said Walters had almost $135,000 in medical bills and couldn't work. “Kroger refused to help and denied any responsibility, so we filed a lawsuit against the national grocery store chain.”
During their investigation, Walters' attorneys requested a copy of video footage from a nearby camera to determine how long the crushed fruit was on the floor before Walters fell.
“Kroger has a duty to keep its floor clear of hazards, like spilled food, that can cause customers to fall and get hurt,” Bell said in the release. “But under Georgia law, Kroger is only responsible if they knew, or should have known, of the hazard. Video evidence is vitally important to show how long the hazard was on the floor and whether Kroger had time to discover it and clean it up.”
Kroger said it didn’t save the video because it didn’t show that part of the store; Walters’ legal team asked for a sample of the camera’s video to verify that claim.
“After much wrangling, Kroger finally complied and gave us what they claimed was an accurate video sample, showing the angle and view that this camera captures every day,” Bell said. “The sample video seemed to confirm Kroger’s claim that the video camera was always pointed away from the area of fall.”
But when another of Walters’ attorneys. Bruce Berger, asked the store’s manager to show a live feed of the camera during a deposition, it showed the site of the fall.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Bell said. “The camera had obviously caught everything that had happened—when the fruit fell to the floor, how long it was there, Walters’ slipping and falling on it—and they deliberately erased it, lied to us and gave us a phony sample of video footage to throw us off their trail.”
Gwinnett State Court Judge Joseph Iannazzone issued an order Dec. 14 that Kroger had destroyed the video evidence and “acted in bad faith in failing to preserve the evidence and manipulating evidence to excuse its actions,” the news release said.
As a result, the judge determined as a matter of law that Kroger was 100 percent negligent for the fall.
“Since negligence was decided by the judge, the case was scheduled for trial on the limited issue of how much of Mr. Walters’ damages were caused by the fall,” Bell said.
The three-day trial began Jan. 17 and ended with a Gwinnett jury deliberating for about nine hours before returning the verdict.
The award included compensation for medical bills, lost wages, damages for pain and suffering, and the expenses of litigation.