Battling Wal-Mart for an Eight-Year-Old Burn Victim
In one of his first cases, Shane sank nearly every cent he had into a case helping a severely burned little girl go to Federal Court against the corporate giant, Wal-Mart.
After almost five years of fighting Wal-Mart’s insurance company, the case was headed for trial. Shane packed up everything he needed into the family motor home, which would serve as his mobile law office over the next three weeks. On board he organized the trial exhibits; printer/fax; lap tops; laser pointer; laminated photos; reams of pleadings, expert diagrams, and blueprints.
Shane arrived where the Wal-Mart trial would be held seven days early, and parked the motor home in the Amtrak station parking lot across from the Federal Courthouse.
A court clerk let him use an empty court room on the 16th floor where Shane practiced for hours in front of an empty jury box.
He had emptied out his bank account and maxed his credit cards to ensure he hired only the best Ph.D. forensic metallurgist and medical burn experts possible to go against the worlds’ most powerful retailer.
“He lived and breathed that case,” his wife recalls.
The morning of trial arrived, and the insurance attorney met with Shane in a conference room outside the court room. “I have an offer for your client, Mr. Reed,” Wal-Mart’s insurance lawyer said, “Nothing.”
During the five-years of litigation, Wal-Mart’s law firm tasked five lawyers to work on the case against him; they’d fought pleading-wars, questioned burn experts, enlisted opposing metallurgists, consulted economists and engineers, cross-examined products-testing UL Laboratory experts, drafted reams of pleadings, and fought in dozens of depositions and hearings. Now the final fight was at hand.
Trial was full of the colorful characters and unexpected developments worthy of reality-television. At the mid-week mark, an earthquake even shook the federal building and interrupted the trial. Shane spoke into the microphone, “Your Honor, I think that’s an earthquake.”
The judge responded, “I think you’re right, Counselor. Next question.”
And the trial rolled on. Some witnesses collapsed under the weight of cross-examination; others took the hits and stood even taller; the burned little girl’s grandmother cried on the stand, and so did her firefighter father.
Then Shane put on his surprise witnesses: a police officer, and an “ear-witness.” Later during closing arguments he pointed out that as the jurors were listening to those witnesses, Wal-Mart’s lawyers were hearing them for the first time, too!
He finished by asking the jurors how Wal-Mart’s founder Sam Walton–if he were still alive–might view his store’s treatment of this burned girl. He answered the hypothetical for them, “He’d tell them to go back and pick that little girl up! That’s not how we treat our customers!” This final argument was a suggestion made by Shane’s wife.
Wal-Mart’s lawyers were caught totally off guard. In the end, after six hours of deliberating, the jury’s unanimous verdict was $3.1 million!
The little girl’s father was quoted in the media outlets, “Shane was awesome. When their expert got up there at first he said there were no defects in the [exploding] pot. Shane got up there and got their expert to say, ‘Yes, there are many defects.’ We were sitting there in awe.”
But it wasn’t over yet – Wal-Mart’s insurance lawyers took the case to the Court of Appeals; however, working at the insurance firm Shane had co-authored twenty appellate arguments, so he took this in stride.
After a prolonged appellate battle, Wal-Mart’s insurance lawyers finally gave up. The little girl got the money she needed to fix her severe hypertrophic scarring. The case made the front page of newspapers. Soon afterward, Wal-Mart’s stock pots began appearing with new safety devices on them so that no one else would have to get hurt so horribly. David had won against Goliath.