20/20: Potential Hazards of Warehouse Stores

ByABC News
March 15, 2001, 7:52 PM

March 16 -- Warehouse and superstores have become wildly popular because customers love the low prices, and that they can buy everything from lumber to light bulbs under one roof.

But critics say shopping at stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart can be dangerous. Heavy merchandise is often stacked high into the air and at Home Depot, forklifts operating during store hours can be hazardous to shoppers.

The safety issue came into sharp focus last year, after three people died at Home Depot stores in an eight-month period.

Tragic Accidents

In November 1999, Rebecca Hamilton and her 79-year-old mother, Mary Penturff, were shopping at a Home Depot in Los Angeles, when a 19-year-old forklift operator knocked a heavy box from an upper shelf. The box struck and killed Penturff.

"I saw this huge pallet falling," Hamilton remembers. "It hit her on the head and there was blood pouring out of her."

Home Depot settled a lawsuit brought by Penturff's family members, who were shocked that their mother could be killed while shopping.

"I thought it was a freak accident and that something like this should never have happened," says Hamilton's sister, Maggie.

But Penturff is not the only victim of such accidents. Just six months later, at a Home Depot in Twin Falls, Idaho, 3-year-old Janessa Horner was knocked to the floor and crushed to death when a load of kitchen counter tops fell from a forklift.

Then last July, a pile of landscaping timbers fell on Jeffrey Mead and killed him at a Home Depot in Danbury, Conn.

Home Depot stores are not the only stores where there have been deadly accidents caused by falling merchandise.

In 1997, at a Wal-Mart in Virginia Beach, Va., a television cabinet killed a 2-year-old girl when it fell on her. At an Abilene, Texas, Sam's Club, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart, a 3-year-old boy died when a bookcase fell on him in 1996. And in 1994 at a HomeBase store in Edmonds, Wash., a woman was crushed to death by a load of ceramic tile.