Watch CBS News

Family sues Walmart after both parents were shot in El Paso attack

Walmart changes gun ammo sales policy
Walmart changes gun ammunition sales policy 00:48
  • Jessica and Guillermo Garcia, who were both wounded in the August shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that killed 22 people, are now suing the retailer.
  • Their lawsuit accuses Walmart of failing to fulfill its legal responsibility to protect customers, alleging that no security guards were present to patrol the store.
  •  The El Paso City Council has explored the possibility of requiring local stores to deploy armed security guards.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a family in which both parents were wounded, one critically, in a mass shooting last month at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, accuses the retailer of failing to protect its customers by not providing adequate security.

The petition was filed in El Paso County court on behalf of Guillermo and Jessica Garcia and their two children by personal injury attorneys Robert Ammons and Patrick Luff of the Ammons Law Firm in Houston. According to the law firm, the suit is the first filed against Walmart after the shooting that killed 22 people and injured 24 more, including the Garcias.

Jessica Garcia told news outlets that her husband stood in front of her during the attack, blocking bullets fired in the shooting. She was hospitalized but has since been released. Shot multiple times in the spine, Guillermo Garcia has had more than a dozen surgeries and remains hospitalized in critical condition, according to the couple's attorney and a GoFundMe page soliciting financial help for the couple. 

The family's suit claims Walmart has a legal responsibility to protect its customers, but failed to do so because it did not employ security guards to patrol the store. The El Paso Walmart where the carnage occurred "does not appear to have had any armed guards for security, although a number of other Walmarts around the country do," the firm said.

"Lawsuits against property owners based on these mass shootings are somewhat virgin territory," attorney Luff told CBS MoneyWatch. "The law in Texas is very difficult when it comes to premise claims, like this one is, and the Texas Supreme Court is hostile to these claims, but we think a jury of 12 from the El Paso community is going to see that Walmart knew there were steps it could take to make this Walmart safer." 

"While we will be seeking compensation, the question for the jury is what is the number that will force the largest retail company to change?" the attorney added. 

Renewed scrutiny on gun policies for retailers after El Paso mass shooting 02:02

"We are also requesting information about Walmart's security practices, including how the El Paso store was rated on Walmart's highly secretive risk-scoring and crime-database systems," attorney Ammons said Wednesday in a news release. "We also want to know whether El Paso Walmart managers altered store security policies in response to a hostage situation and shooting that took place in 2016 at a Walmart in Amarillo, Texas."

The incident in Amarillo roughly three years ago involved an armed Walmart employee who took two other workers hostage before being shot to death by local police.

Ammons' firm also represents a number of families affected by a 2017 church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26 people died and another 20 were injured.     

Under pressure from gun-safety advocates and some employees, Walmart on Tuesday said it would ask customers not to openly carry weapons into its stores. The retailer will also discontinue sales of some types of ammunition used in assault-style rifles and end handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sells such weapons. The company will still sell rifles and shotguns, along with the necessary ammo.

Walmart plans to reopen the store in El Paso where the mass shooting occurred after a renovation expected to take three to four months. 

"This tragic event will be with us forever and our hearts go out to the families that were impacted. Safety is a top priority and we care deeply about our associates and customers," Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove told CBS MoneyWatch on Wednesday, alluding to the Garcias' suit. "We preserved what information we have, and we've worked meticulously with federal and local authorities as they documented everything that took place on August 3. Once we are served with a complaint, we will respond appropriately with the court."

Armed man in body armor arrested at Missouri Walmart 01:05

The El Paso City Council has explored the possibility of requiring armed security guards for large stores and of requiring certain additional security features at store entrances. 

"People are not picking on Walmart in particular, but they used to have off-duty officers hired there all the time. And then for some reason, it went away," police chief Greg Allen told city council members in an August 8 briefing, according to the Associated Press.

Walmart stopped selling assault-style weapons in 2015 and raised the minimum age to buy firearms and ammunition to 21, from 18, in 2018. It stopped selling handguns everywhere but in Alaska in 1993, and ended sales of rifles like the AR-15 in 2015.

Retailers face mounting legal exposure due to mass shootings, according to Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University and expert on litigation against the gun industry. 

Walmart previously reached at least two legal settlements with families who lost loved ones in a 2014 mass shooting in Overland Park, Kansas, outside a Jewish community center. In those cases, plaintiffs claimed Walmart should've known that the buyer of the gun that was used in the incident intended to give it to someone else, a violation of "straw purchase" laws.

Kroger was sued last month by the daughter of a man shot to death at one of its stores, with the suit calling on the chain to ban patrons from carrying firearms in its grocery stores in the states and towns where local laws allow the practice. The country's largest grocery chain on Tuesday followed Walmart in asking its customers to refrain from openly carrying weapons in its stores, even where the law allows it.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.