Jury Awards Houston Woman $9 Million Against Wal-Mart in Dispute Over $200

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.

For the full story, click here.

27 thoughts on “Jury Awards Houston Woman $9 Million Against Wal-Mart in Dispute Over $200”

  1. Wal-Mart has many things wrong with it, but this really seems excessive, especially since the punitive damages were so small.

    Can’t believe Wal-Mart let this go to trial; they could have settled for pennies (relatively speaking).

  2. LOL – This couldn’t have happened to a nicer ‘community partner.’

    I don’t call it Wal-SH*Tmart for nothin’!

  3. Florida–

    It sounds like Wal-Mart is sending out a spokesman to do damage control.
    **********
    Woman wins $9 million in Wal-Mart suit
    By HOUSTON CHRONICLE
    March 27, 2010
    Posted: March 27, 2010, 3:56 PM CDT

    A Houston woman who was wrongly arrested in 2008 at the Walmart in Meyer Park won a $9 million jury verdict Friday.

    Nitra Gipson, 24, filed a civil lawsuit against the retailer after store employees accused her of trying to exchange counterfeit money orders for cash. She was arrested and spent two days in jail. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges after investigators determined that the Walmart money orders were authentic.

    That meant Gipson had been falsely accused and falsely arrested.

    Company lawyers based in Utah later sent her a letter alleging that she owed Wal-Mart money for taking merchandise. The letter threatened to pursue a shoplifting charge if she didn’t pay $200.

    “The jury found that she had been defamed by being accused of forgery, counterfeiting, theft and shoplifting,” said Houston lawyer Lloyd Kelley, who represented Gipson.

    A Harris County court jury determined that Wal-Mart Stores Texas should pay $8.2 million in actual damages and another $820,000 in punitive damages.

    John A. Ramirez, a Houston lawyer who represents the retailer, directed questions to Walmart media relations.

    A company spokesperson did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

    Kelley said Wal-Mart lawyers indicated that they would appeal the verdict. That means resolving the case may take another few years, he said.

    “The main problem for Walmart has been the bad publicity,” Kelley said, adding that company officials haven’t offered an apology, haven’t asked for the charges filed again Gipson to be expunged from her record and have not revealed any company policy changes resulting from the incident.

    Gipson still has a police record and mugshot in Harris County that shows she was charged with a felony.

    Since the incident, Gipson has graduated from Texas Southern University and wants to become a lawyer, Kelley said. She sold her car to help raise tuition two years ago, which is why she had $4,100 in money orders.

    “She was as innocent as can be,” he added.

    http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/local/woman_wins__9_million_in_wal-mart_suit.html

  4. So they’re going to make me defend Wal-Mart…. have the courts lost all reasonability? 9 effin millions!?

    Shit, Ghandi’s reputation’s not worth that much…

    Justice is out of it’s mind… Maybe try nine thousand dollars, that sounds better, we’re in a crisis you know.

  5. how do you not know your own money orders? they must have some seriously stupid people working at Wal-Mart and running Wal-Mart. But as Dr. Deming says, it is the fault of management for not making an efficient work environment. Sounds like some Wal-Mart execs need to get a pink slip.

  6. I’m not sure if the attorneys are the problem to be honest. I think it has more to do with the laws in effect here that are made, in my opinion, to protect consumers in terms of insurance rates. However, in situations where you need the insurance complanies to pay out for damages it becomes very difficult.

  7. Canadian Eh I guess Canada is not a good place for personal injury attorneys. Texas has not been that good lately. The state has taken tort reform to the extreme.

  8. rcampbell,

    I can’t imagine a claim like this ever being made in Canada, although I can’t be sure about that. The only ” lawsuit ” type knowledge I have is with respect to personal injury claims following a car accident, and million dollar settlements are not the norm here by any means.

  9. Florida,

    They were Wal-Mart money orders. It’s kind of hard to blame local law enforcement when the company who issued the money orders is the same company who said they were forgeries.

    I think the amount awarded is ridiculously high, but Wal-Mart is the only party who should end up hurting from this.

  10. I really don’t think Walmart should be to blame solely for this, nor pay this ridiculous amount of money to her. Once Walmart made the claim, then local law enforcement had to be called in. Wouldn’t they have looked at the money orders and decided whether they were legit or not before arresting this woman? What is their accountability in this? Walmart just questioned the validity of the currency/money order. What’s wrong with that?

  11. Canadian Eh!

    What are the differences in Canada vis a vis these kinds of claims, suits and awards?

    Elaine M

    After reading JT’s posted story I looked for more info (on a hunch) and found the same fact, that Ms. Gipson is black. I’d make a large wager her race was the ONLY factor in the charge.

  12. It makes my day to see the extremist policies of Wal-Mart smacked down by a jury. As mentioned above, this is a glaring example of why I never go into a Wal-Mart or Sam’s club. Kudos to the jury.

  13. Nitra Gipson is Black. Do you suppose that had anything to do with Walmart suspecting her of a crime and having her arrested?

  14. There really are some things about the American judicial system that I’d love to see in Canada. Considering I have an open lawsuit against a man who fell asleep at his wheel and caused an accident which involved, and left me with permanent back injuries for which I may never be compensated…this is definately one of them!

  15. Wal-Mart.

    Nice customer service.

    I’ll be stopping by with some money orders today.

    Don’t worry about attorneys.

    I’ll bring one with me.

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