An Alabama woman who says she was falsely arrested for shoplifting at a Walmart and then threatened by the company after her case was dismissed has been awarded $2.1 million in damages.
A Mobile County jury on Monday ruled in favor of Lesleigh Nurse of Semmes, news outlets reported. Nurse said in a lawsuit that she was stopped in November 2016 when trying to leave a Walmart with groceries she said she already paid for, according to AL.com. She said she used self-checkout but the scanning device froze. Workers didn't accept her explanation and she was arrested for shoplifting.
Her case was dismissed a year later after a Walmart employee and defendant in her suit failed to respond to a subpoena and appear in court, according to Nurse's suit. The following month, however, she received the first of several letters from a Florida law firm threatening a civil suit unless she paid $200 as a settlement, the complaint states.
That was more than the $48 in groceries she was accused of stealing — 11 items in all, including Christmas lights, a loaf of bread and Cap'n Crunch cereal, CBS affiliate WKRG reported.
In her suit against the retail giant, filed by Mobile attorney Vince Kilborn in 2018, Nurse claimed Walmart instructed the law firm to send the letters.
Walmart has "engaged in a pattern and practice of targeting Alabama citizens falsely accused of shoplifting with demands that the innocent customer immediately pay money or risk getting sued by Walmart in addition to the criminal charges already pending against them," the suit charged. "Often, as in this case, the money demanded to resolve the issue is substantially higher than the value of the merchandise allegedly stolen."
Defense attorneys for Walmart said the practice is legal. Under Alabama law, shoplifters can be ordered to reimburse a store owner for up to $200. However, some of those people may have been falsely accused.
"Why would I pay for something I didn't do?"
"At first you think, well, I'll pay it and it will all go away. But then, I'm like, I didn't do anything wrong — why would I pay for something I didn't do?" Nurse told WKRG's Bill Riales.
WKRG reported that the trial featured testimony that Walmart and other major retailers routinely use such settlements in states where laws allow it, and that Walmart made hundreds of millions of dollars this way over two-year period. Defense attorneys declined to comment on the verdict to WKRG.
In a statement released Tuesday, a spokesperson for Walmart said the company plans to appeal the ruling.
"We continue to believe our associates acted appropriately. We don't believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and the damages awarded exceed what is allowed by law. We will be filing post-trial motions," the statement read in part.
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