The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 26, 2014

Lawsuits against Wal-Mart following 2011 tornado making way through courts

Retailer asks to consolidate cases

JOPLIN, Mo. — As the third anniversary of the Joplin tornado approaches, three lawsuits against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. filed on behalf of or by storm victims continue to slowly make their way through Jasper County courts.

The lawsuits have moved from state court to federal court and back again, and have seen attorneys withdraw and new attorneys come on board.

Attorneys for Wal-Mart have until Monday to submit a schedule related to discovery and documents related to the company’s request to consolidate the cases.

The first lawsuit was filed by Janice and Jodelle Kirk, wife and daughter, respectively, of Stanley Kirk, who died May 22, 2011, in the Wal-Mart store at 1501 S. Range Line Road, when the tornado destroyed the building. The suit, which alleges negligence, was filed in 2012 in Jasper County Circuit Court. It was subsequently taken up in federal court, then returned to Jasper County last year.

Two other lawsuits also were filed last year, one by Stacey Elliott and the other by Bryan and Myra Brown, a married couple, both alleging negligence and false imprisonment against Wal-Mart the night of the storm.

Fatality allegations

The Kirk family lawsuit claims that Stanley Kirk, 62, was at the Wal-Mart Super Center buying golf equipment when tornado sirens sounded and that he attempted to leave the store to return to his home three miles away but was forced to remain in the store by locked doors and was directed to an “unsafe/improper” location.

Had Kirk been allowed to leave, family members claim, there was enough time for him to have made the drive to his home, which wasn’t struck by the tornado, according to the lawsuit.

They also allege that the company knew its store was built in an area at high risk for tornadoes and violent wind, that the store was not built properly given that risk, and that there was not a proper emergency plan in place, including a lack of signage and identified safe areas.

It seeks an unspecified amount in damages, with Janice and Jodelle Kirk citing pain and suffering, the loss of Stanley Kirk’s income and funeral and medical expenses.

The responses of Wal-Mart’s attorneys, based on legal documents filed in the case, is that Kirk was accountable for his action in failing to take shelter in the store as instructed.

“Plaintiffs’ claims should be barred or reduced pursuant to the principles of comparative fault,” reads a portion of the company’s answer to the Kirk lawsuit. “Decedent Stanley Kirk was comparatively at fault in failing to take cover in an area designated for safety as directed by Wal-Mart employees.”

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