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May 6, 2009

"Wal-Mart pays $2M to avoid charges in death probe"

The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article.  Here are some of the details of an interesting story that raises interesting issues related to corporate criminal liability, the purposes of punishment and prosecutorial discretion:

Wal-Mart agreed Wednesday to pay nearly $2 million and improve safety at its 92 New York stores as part of a deal with prosecutors that avoids criminal charges in the trampling death of a temporary worker.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who began a criminal investigation shortly after last November's customer stampede at Wal-Mart's Valley Stream store, said that if she had brought criminal charges against the retailer in the worker's death, the company would have been subject to only a $10,000 fine if convicted. Rice declined to say what charges were considered against Wal-Mart, citing the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

Instead, she said, the company has agreed to implement an improved crowd-management plan for post-Thanksgiving Day sales, set up a $400,000 victims' compensation and remuneration fund, and give a $1.5 million grant to Nassau County social services programs and nonprofit groups.... "Rather than bringing the world's largest retailer to court and imposing a small fine against them, I felt it was important to require significant safety changes that will affect the whole state," Rice said. "Our goal is for the protocols that are set up to be the gold standard for crowd management in this industry."...

The community grant money includes $1.2 million for Nassau County's Youth Board, which helps nonprofit agencies provide career development, employment training and other opportunities.  The retailer also will donate $300,000 to the United Way of Long Island's Youth Build Program in Nassau County.  The deal also calls for Wal-Mart to hire 50 high school students annually to work in its five stores in the county.

Anyone inclined to raise a stink about this outcome?  Anyone troubled by the Nassau County DA's use of the threat of criminal prosecution to compell Wal-Mart into this kind of unusual settlement?

May 6, 2009 at 01:19 PM | Permalink


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Well, I don't like it when prosecutors lie. While it may be true that Wal-mart would have paid a lesser fine, money is not the only issue at stake. If the adversarial process is a "search for the truth" then the prosecutor just sold the truth for a mess of pottage. The public has a right not only to decide (via the jury system) but also a right to know if the company acted in a criminal way. If the prosecutor believed that Wal-Mart was innocent, then using a lawsuit to pump money out of them was unethical. If the prosecutor believed the company was guilty, then not filing charges was unethical. The truth should not be bought and sold like a rusty can of peaches. We deserve better than that.

Posted by: Daniel | May 6, 2009 2:35:11 PM

1. I wouldn't pay $2M for a rusty can of peaches.

2. I suspect that Prof. Berman meant to say "UNusual settlement"

Posted by: anonymous | May 6, 2009 3:41:25 PM

Point 2 is right, thanks, now fixed...

Posted by: Doug B. | May 6, 2009 4:17:02 PM

Yeah Wal Mart is the most vile evil company on the planet, they had psychics that told them those people would stampede and had a great laugh by not telling those expendable temp workers. I heard somewhere that Wal Mart uses subliminal messages in the PA system to influence customers into a mob frenzy for $399 flat screen tvs.

Posted by: MarkM | May 6, 2009 6:03:19 PM

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