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 and an employee assisted her. Workers didn’t accept her explanation and she was later arrested on warrants for shoplifting. According to the New York Times, Walmart refused to show her video surveillance footage of the alleged theft.
Her case was dismissed a year later, but then she received letters from a Florida law firm threatening a civil suit if she didn’t pay $200 as a settlement, according to her lawsuit. That was more than the cost of the groceries she was accused of stealing.
Nurse said Walmart instructed the law firm to send the letters — and that she wasn’t the only one receiving them.
“The defendants have engaged in a pattern and practice of falsely accusing innocent Alabama citizens of shoplifting and thereafter attempting to collect money from the innocently accused,” the suit contended.
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 in a two-year period.
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Walmart also allegedly set a collection goal of $6 million in 2016 for one of its go-to firms, according to the NYTimes, which noted that in many states, retailers do not have to return the money they collect if the cases are ultimately dismissed or the people are cleared.
While laws that allow retailers to push for restitution even when people have not been convicted of wrongdoing were established so companies could pursue shoplifters without clogging up the courts, retailers are still moving on both fronts, pressing criminal charges and demanding that they pay up before cases are resolved.
“Walmart funds its asset protection department by intimidating those falsely accused of shoplifting out of making a claim against Walmart out of fear of protracted litigation against an almost limitlessly funded corporate giant,” the suit argues.
Defense attorneys for Walmart said the practice is legal in Alabama. A spokesperson told AL.com that the company will be filing motions in this case because it doesn’t “believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and the damages awarded exceed what is allowed by law.”