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Seen At 11: Beware Of Falling Merchandise At Warehouse Stores

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Ana Espinal went to a home-improvement superstore for fuses, but she left feeling dizzy.

A person who was helping her accidentally knocked a nearly 15-pound circuit breaker off a shelf, and it landed on her head, Espinal said.

"You're not expecting something like that that's going to fly and hit you," she said.

While big-box stores are cheap and offer shoppers everything from paper towels to car tires, accidents like Espinal's happen all the time, CBS 2's Maurice DuBois reported.

Thousands of people across the country have been injured over the past 10 years., a website that tracks such accidents, says some people have even been killed.

"The case law abounds with people who are getting into all kinds of mishaps in these large warehouse operations," said attorney Richard Kerner.

The biggest problem is merchandise stacked precariously.

"As I was reaching for a bundle of metal studs, one of the bundles from behind it fell out and struck me in the face," said one man, who was injured at a big-box store, in an online video.

Lawsuit after lawsuit offers similar stories -- 100 pounds of patio furniture falls, striking a customer; several 65-pound cabinets stacked five feet in the air crash down on a shopper; a large display of soda collapses on someone.

Kerner points out these stores, by their very nature, literally warehouse the merchandise right on the sales floor, while smaller retailers keep their surplus items in a storeroom out of customers' reach.

"The average person is not equipped to rummage around a warehouse," Kerne said.

Carl Abraham, a retail safety expert, pointed out flaws to CBS 2 at a popular warehouse store. He cautioned shoppers to be mindful of heavy items being stacked on top of lighter items and products too large for a shelf. And if you have to lift heavy merchandise yourself, make sure it's low to the ground.

Abraham, however, acknowledged that stores have greatly improved safety in recent years.

BJ's Wholesale Club says it goes to extremes to keep shoppers safe. At a store in the Bronx, General Manager Alek Shapiro showed CBS 2 BJ's safety plan, including how employees shrink-wrap all merchandise stored above a customer's head.

"It will keep the merchandise together, and it will prevent the merchandise from falling," Shapiro said.

BJ's also only restocks shelves when the store is closed, and every employee must undergo safety training.

"If you follow the rules, you may prevent these accidents," Shapiro said.

Big-box stores' parking lots are another concern. A recent study from Texas A&M found these larger lots are associated with a higher risk of injuries and deadly traffic accidents among people age 75 and older.

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