Will the Real Big Lots Please Stand Up?

A woman was shopping with her two-year-old child in a Big Lots store in Washington. A Big Lots employee was stacking heavy boxes across the aisle. The employee knocked over some of the heavy boxes, which struck the child on the head. The boxes pushed the child head-first into metal shelving, cutting a large gash in the child’s forehead. A Big Lots employee handed the mother a business card that indicated that the “home office” was “Big Lots, Inc.” in Ohio. In fact, Big Lots, Inc. is a holding company that does not own or operate any retail stores. Nevertheless, Big Lots, Inc. communicated with the attorney for the minor in settlement negotiations.

After personal injury settlement negotiations failed, the attorney filed suit naming “Big Lots, Inc.” Big Lots, Inc. did not answer the complaint by the summons deadline. The minor’s attorney moved for a judgment by default. By then, the attorney realized that Big Lots Stores, Inc. owns and operates retail stores and should have been named. The attorney disclosed this to the court, and the court entered a judgment of $250,000.

To confuse matters further, the registered agent for Big Lots Stores, Inc. claimed that it rejected service because of the misnomer in the complaint, and sent a letter rejecting service to the minor’s attorney. The minor’s attorney claimed to have never received the letter.

In the end, the $250,000 judgment was vacated, and the Washington Court of Appeals upheld this ruling.[1] After about three years of litigation and appeals, the minor may now pursue the original claim from square one against the correct corporate defendant.

Sometimes procedural “technicalities” alone are much more complicated than it looks. If you have a personal injury claim, even if you think it looks cut-and-dried, you should seek a free case evaluation from an attorney.

By personal injury attorney Travis Scott Eller

[1] M.G. v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., unpublished (No. 67917-1-1 September 16, 2013).
Posted in Premises Liability and tagged , .