Superstore Injuries A Trade Secret?

Police go over the scene at Glasgow Airport Sunday, July 1, 2007, after a blazing car was driven into the airport's main terminal Saturday in Glasgow, Scotland. Police were treating the incident as terrorism; linking it with the car bombs found in central London Friday.
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When CBS News visited them last fall, Julie and Virgil Horner were suing Home Depot over the death of their oldest daughter Janessa.

"It's completely unimaginable you would lose a child in there," said Julie.

Three-year-old Janessa was crushed when a load of counter tops fell from an upper shelf in the Home Depot in Twin Falls, Idaho.

"She was knocked unconscious right away,' recalled Julie.

Since then, the Horners settled their lawsuit, but not before Home Depot's lawyers asked them for strict confidentiality — that is, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews, in exchange for money, Home Depot wanted their silence.

The Horners refused that part of settlement. They believe shopping in supercenters where goods are unrestrained overhead is dangerous and that secrecy about that danger is part of the problem.

"This is kind of our crusade right now to help warn other families to be careful," said Julie.

"We need to have Congress take a look at this," argued the Horner's attorney, Breck Seiniger.

Seiniger says Home Depot wants to keep in-store injuries a trade secret. He compares it to the way Firestone tires used confidentiality deals to keep a lid on the problem with SUV rollovers.

Asked if he thought they asked his clients to keep this quiet to prevent the public from learning the extent of the problem, Seiniger replied, "Absolutely I do. There's no legitimate business purpose to hide the number of accidents and the way in which they occur."

Stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart say they work hard to prevent injuries. Since last fall, Home Depot says, it's using more restraints on those upper level shelves.

Wal-Mart officials say the number of customers claiming injury is a tiny fraction of its billions of customer visits.

Still neither store will release the exact number of injury reports, even though in past court testimony they've admitted to thousands. When a CBS News hidden camera was in a Wal-Mart last November, an employee volunteered that falling merchandise is a fact of life.

"It comes down on me more often than it does on our customers. I've been bonked a couple of times."

But is the average shopper aware that merchandise overhead routinely falls?

Dennis Fry would say no. "I remember suddenly wiping the blood off my face," recalled Fry.

He was shopping at this Colorado Wal-Mart last December, when he opened the doors on a wooden cabinet, which fell and knocked him out. He says he had no idea something that large would ever be unrestrained.

"You expect to open the door, you don't expect your life to be threatened," said Fry.

Wal-Mart says it is investigating Fry's claim. Today, no state requires restraints on high stacked goods and no government agency tracks in store injuries to shoppers. To honor Janessa, the Horners are working to change that.

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