Danger From Above

They stack merchandise sky-high in the warehouse-style superstore chains that have grown in popularity in recent years.

CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports that for customers, the practice can be a tragedy waiting to happen.

Three-year-old Janessa Horner was killed at a Home Depot store last May, when a load of kitchen countertops fell from a high shelf.

The debris just missed both of her parents, Julie and Virgil Horner.

"I started to run up towards Janessa," says her mother, Julie Horner. "But the countertops were flying behind her, end over end, and just crushed her into the ground."

Janessa Horner's death might be seen as a tragic, but, still freak, accident...until you consider that in the last year three people have died in Home Depot stores when merchandise fell from the racks above their heads.

And it's not just Home Depot. Trial lawyer Jeffrey Hyman says the entire retail warehouse industry has a safety problem, as some 10,000 customers are injured in the stores every year.

Hyman says warehouse and discount superstores, where the goods are stacked unrestrained on high shelves, are inherently dangerous.

"My clients have suffered permanent brain damage, broken and fractured necks— it's an intentional disregard of a known danger," says Hyman.

But Home Depot management says safety is not being ignored in the stores. "We accept no level of injury in our stores," says firm vice president Mark Baker.

Baker says the in-store deaths are considered tragedies to a company that takes safety seriously.

"We work hard and were not going to make trade-offs between cost and safety," he adds.

To prove it, Baker explained Home Depot's safety practices, which include the plastic wrapping of goods stored on pallets up high, and at lower levels, the use of restraining bars.

"That is our intention and that's the plan," Baker said when asked if it's Home Depot's policy 100 percent of the time to have its merchandise restrained.

Yet in two of the Home Depot deaths, those safety measures failed. The company also admits that goods not on pallets are often stacked on upper shelves unrestrained.

Attorney Hyman pointed out examples of how that merchandise can hang over the heads of shoppers.

"They say they don't tolerate it but they do," Hyman

Consumers don't know about the risks in warehouse stores because the stores often get courts to keep injury statistics secret. They also ask victims like the Horners to be silent in exchange for any monetary settlement. But the Horners have refused.

Virgil Horner says he believes there is something morally wrong with asking the families of accident victims like Janessa to keep quiet about it, "because people's lives are in danger."

And that's something the Horner family learned the hard way. Government agencies protect workers in these stores, but shoppers are on their own. And the etent of the problem is a secret closely held by the companies and the courts.


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