A Houston jury has ruled against Wal-Mart in a case where the store falsely accused a woman of trying to exchange counterfeit money orders. Nitra Gipson, 24, was awarded $9 million in the case where she was jailed for two days on the allegations. Prosecutors later learned that the money orders at the heart of the allegations were perfectly valid.
The company’s lawyers in Utah demanded that she pay the store $200 and threatened a shoplifting action. Notably, the jury found that such claims amounted to defamation and that her compensatory damages were $8.2 million. Only $820,000 of the award was based on punitive damages.
The company has never apologized to Gipson or sought to have the charges expunged over its mistake. They will now pay $9 million over a $200 dispute unless the court reduces the award through remittitur.
She sold her car to help pay for tuition at Texas Southern University, which is why she had the money orders.
Gipson now wants to become a lawyer — she might find the consumer protection courses of particular interest.
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27 thoughts on “Jury Awards Houston Woman $9 Million Against Wal-Mart in Dispute Over $200”
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I agree, it just feels like “idocracy” out there lately and I promise not to hold it against you (being a lawyer and all).
Joe, you may be right. It’s generally lawyers like me who take the outrageous but ill-paying suits. WalMart’s ability to pay is legally relevant on the issue of punitive damages, however. That is because the theory of punitive damages is to let the defendant know that bad actions have bad consequences without causing bankruptcy. To WalMart, the verdict may get their attention, but it will have no bottom-line significance.
I know, I was exagerattin. However, I do not believe WalMart’s ability to pay is relevant. If this woman was suing a small mom and pop store would the jury have been as eager to award such a sum? It is a very good example of what is wrong with our current civil court system nonetheless. The woman’s lawyers wouldn’t have even taken the case had it not been WalMart and she would probably never seen the inside of a court room.
Joe, your fears for the future of WalMart are a tad overwrought. First, this sort of verdict is extremely rare and only happens when a defendant’s actions have truly angered a jury. I’m sure there was a great deal of evidence to show that WalMart acted arrogantly, publicly humiliated the woman, refused to acknowledge their mistake and apologize and fought the lawsuit tooth and toenail in an effort to wear her down with their unlimited defense budget. Jurors are people like you and me; they don’t give away money, despite all the propaganda to the contrary.
Second, it is likely that either the trial judge or the appellate court will reduce the award. The numbers may look large, but they are seldom paid. It is also quite possible that the parties will settle while an appeal is pending.
Third, although $9,000,000.00 is a huge sum to mere mortals like you and me, it is barely a footnote on WalMart’s balance sheet. So even in the unlikely event that WalMart had to fork over the whole amount, it would have no impact on the next dividend calculations.
I have decided not to shop at Walmart, they used to sell a variety of products, but now only have one or two if they can keep stock on the shelves. They used to also sell kitchen scrub brushes made from recycled plastic, but they don’t now.
9 million dollars for two days in jail. WOW, talk about stupid and several of you are cheering. Great cause once this catches on and Wal mart goes out of business we can add all of their employees and vendors to our list of people that need help from the government.
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