On Your Mark, Get Set … File? Black Friday a Business Boom For Lawyers As Well As Retail

BY ALYSSA WILLIAMS — Shoppers today stood outside various retail establishments in the wee hours of the morning, or perhaps late Thanksgiving night, to grab door-busters and giveaways on America’s busiest shopping day. However, when packing the thermos, store ads, and sweater, shoppers (and employees) should bring along their attorney’s business card as well. While clever jingles and commercial hooks drive up retail sales, in one way or another Black Friday drums up plenty of business for the legal world too.

What goes up, must go…up? The high volume of motorists rushing between stores to get the early bird specials means high volumes of traffic incidents as well. Progressive car insurance reports that many of its Black Friday claims come from parking lot accidents alone: 12.57% for rear ending someone or being rear ended, 11.13% for striking someone’s car or being struck, and 7.68% for backing into cars or being backed into. Tired shoppers behind the wheel must also be cautious of accidents ranging from minor scrapes to severe collisions. Mixed-martial artist Urjah Faber can attest to that: his sister was seriously injured in a car collision on her early morning drive home from Black Friday shopping.

Personal injury and probate lawyers can also verify there is no safe haven outside of your vehicle either. It appears that when goodies are flying off the shelves, inhibitions about physical altercations fly out the window. A relatively mild case is oft recounted by my brother: an elderly woman hit him with a Care Bear (specifically, the rainbow Care Bear) to keep him from grabbing a toy. Far more serious is the California woman who pepper sprayed competing customers to ensure her shopping success, injuring twenty people. Even our cities’ finest are pulled into litigation. Bannan v. City of Philadelphia, 2012 WL 406325 (E.D. Pa. Feb 09, 2012), is a §1983 action against a police who tried to remove a shopper from a store entrance on Black Friday and a dispute ensued. Ranker.com has even created a slide presentation of the “13 most brutal Black Friday Injuries/Deaths.”

Counsel for retail stores can testify that store employees aren’t safe either. Holiday displays can be prone to falling, and employees can injure themselves with the heavy and volume lifting that comes with the increased sales. Long shifts in preparation of Black Friday bring their own dangers: See Aylward v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2011 WL 2357762 (D.N.J. 20011), where an employee was injured and died in a car accident on his drive home after a 22-hour shift. The peak of Black Friday madness might be best represented by the famous 2008 tragedy where a Wal-mart employee was trampled by an excited crowd. That particular incident seems to have spurred OSHA to create preventative “Crowd Management” safety guidelines for planning sales, setting up, and emergencies.

If corporate law is more your style, Black Friday will come to you too. Check out IBEW Local 98 Pension Fund v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 2012 WL 5199443 (D. Minn. Oct 22, 2012) (NO. CIV. 11-429 DWF/FLN), where Best Buy had to defend a stock holder’s class action claim partially based on statements regarding its expected Black Friday sales. Feel free to brush up on your breach of contracts cases too. Amcor, Inc. v. CIT Grp./Commercial Servs., Inc. 2011 WL 2207562 (S.D.N.Y. May 31, 2011) is just one example of how sales can go awry. Bankruptcy and collection specialists may also become involved in credit disputes as people over-spend their budgets too.

Civ Pro Buff?  The Formula, Inc. v. Mammoth 8050, LLC, 2008 WL 60428 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 3, 2008) may tickle your fancy. In The Formula, the court reviewed an appeal alleging that the defendant failed to timely remove because it erroneously counted Black Friday as a legal holiday when computing its filing requirements.

As expected, criminal prosecution and defense are intimately involved in Black Friday litigation. Every good shopper knows not to leave their cart unattended or other shoppers may lift their hard-won grabs, but that doesn’t deter more serious criminals. How to Stay Safe While Shopping Online by USnews.com tries to improve consumer safety of online bargain hunters and prevent identity theft. Car thefts, purse snatchings, and home burglaries rise during the holiday season, and physical fights, shootings, robberies, scams, and fraud schemes end up on the court dockets. Counterfeiting isn’t limited to money anymore either: PRNewswire predicted stores would lose $3 billion in fraudulent receipt returns during the shopping season last year. Thus, the law can be assured that despite police efforts nationwide, issuing safety advisories for shoppers and providing extra personnel for safety, criminal attorneys will have plenty of work ahead of them.

Ann Landers said, “Anyone who believes the competitive spirit in America is dead has never been in a supermarket when the cashier opens another checkout line.” No day can better demonstrate such spirit as Black Friday. Shoppers will rush between stores and checkouts to save on holiday gifts and home accessories. However, this must be done with caution or medical and legal fees can swamp those very savings. I’m probably out in the trenches of Black Friday shopping as you read this, clamoring for the next Tickle-me-Elmo, Furby or Wii. Wish me luck and I’ll catch you later—if I don’t see you in court.

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