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N.C. work comp law protects Wal-Mart in wrongful death suit

N.C. work comp law protects Wal-Mart in wrongful death suit

The estate of a Wal-Mart store greeter who died after a loss-control employee and an alleged shoplifter collided with her cannot sue the giant retailer for wrongful death, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The exclusivity provision within North Carolina's workers compensation act protects Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other defendants, the appeals court ruled in the case of Wendy Sue Pender v. Joshua Max Lambert.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2011 against Mr. Lambert, Sean Repass and “Wal-Mart defendants,” including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wal-Mart Associates Inc.

The court ruling says on May 18, 2011 Mr. Repass worked as a loss- prevention associate in Wilson, N.C., detecting and apprehending suspected shoplifters. He suspected Mr. Lambert of stealing and asked Mr. Lambert to follow him to the back of the store.

But Mr. Lambert bolted and Mr. Repass chased him, which violated Wal-Mart's no-chase policy.

The two collided into Rochelle Boswell Pender, who died of a head injury, and Wal-Mart terminated Mr. Repass for violating its no-chase policy.

In 2012, a Superior Court judge granted a request by Wal-Mart and Mr. Repass for summary judgment, and Ms. Pender's family appealed. The estate argued that an exception to the workers comp exclusive remedy should apply because Wal-Mart essentially maintained a quota system with loss-prevention associates expected to reach eight apprehensions per month.

The plaintiff claimed the quota amounted to employer misconduct that was certain to cause serious injury or death.

But the appeals court disagreed.

“Here, superimposed on top of the purported quota system, is Wal-Mart's no-chase policy,” the court ruled. “The fact that Wal-Mart Associates has implemented a no-chase policy evidences that it prioritizes the safety of its (Repass) employees and customers. Wal-Mart Associates terminated for violating this policy, further indicating its commitment to safety. Additionally, the record indicates that no prior injuries have resulted from the imposition of the quota system.”

The court affirmed the lower court's summary judgment.