“Tell Them You Mean Business”

Dubuque v. Cumberland Farms – Mass. Storefront Crash Verdict for $32M

Some 50 times every day, a vehicle crashes into the front of a retail store, restaurant or commercial building. In 2010, it happened at a Chicopee convenience store, resulting in the death of a 43-year-old patron.

Now, in Dubuque v. Cumberland Farms, a 12-person jury has handed down the largest-ever jury verdict in Hampden County in favor of that victim’s surviving husband and daughter: $32.3 million in damages.

Massachusetts car accident lawyers at The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone know the case brought to the forefront the issue of storefront safety. Too often, there is a tendency to assume this sort of thing “just happens” or that the person behind the wheel shoulders all the blame.

In reality, when a storefront abuts a parking lot, there should be an assumption that something like this could happen. That means it is foreseeable. The business owes a duty of care to patrons to ensure its site is reasonably safe for business invitees. When it is not, those business owners/ managers can be held responsible.

In a case like this, something as simple as concrete bollards around the perimeter could have prevented this unnecessary tragedy.

According to the ample news coverage of this accident lawsuit, an elderly motorist was driving his sport-utility vehicle at more than 70 mph when he slammed into the storefront. At the time, the 81-year-old driver was suffering a stroke. Because of the “sudden emergency doctrine,” in which a driver faces a sudden and unexpected dangerous situation not of his or her own making, the elderly motorist could not be held criminally or civilly responsible.

The victim’s family then turned their attention to the business. They alleged that the site was vulnerable where it was located, and the business should have installed strong barriers in order to prevent vehicles from slamming into the building.

The defendants argued that no federal, state or local regulations required the business to install the barriers outside its store, and characterized decedent’s death as a traffic accident. They underscored there had never been a crash at that location since it opened in 1974.

But the plaintiff argued it was only a matter of time.

Although there may not have been a law mandating the installation of barriers, the store still owed a duty of care to make sure its customers were reasonably safe. As plaintiff attorneys explained, the store had an apex-type driveway that posed a safety risk because vehicles could drive directly at the store at high rates of speed, and there were not barriers at all protecting the people inside. Plaintiff attorneys described it as “a deadly invitation.”

Further, the injury lawyer explained that this was a company that had locations from Miami to Maine. They had ample resources to install these protections without significant hardship – about $3,000 to $3,500 per store.

And while it was true the store had never had a crash at that site before, there had been numerous problems with cars traveling at high speeds nearby and in the parking lot. What’s more, there had been hundreds of “car strikes” at other stores owned by this same company.

In the end, it was this long pattern of neglect on the part of the convenience store chain that convinced jurors more could and should have been done to ensure customers were safe from car accidents. It shouldn’t take the untimely and devastating loss of a wife and mother for a company to be proactive in protecting their patrons.

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