2020 Black Friday Safety Tips to Avoid Discounting Your Health This Holiday Season

From fistfights to identity theft, shopping on Black Friday brings a few safety risks all holiday gifters should know, along with a new hazard – the COVID-19 pandemic. This health crisis requires additional precautions, such as masks and social distancing, along with extra hand washing and sanitizer use.

Years ago, a Black Friday shopping trip changed the lives of two families forever. For reasons still unknown, two mothers got into an argument that turned deadly. Witnesses reported violence erupted between the two women during a verbal confrontation inside a large toy retailer.

The altercation took a turn for the worse when two men involved in the incident pulled handguns and started chasing the other around the crowded store, scaring other shoppers and workers. Ultimately, the dispute resulted in both men’s deaths from gunfire - two families with their lives torn apart on the busiest shopping day of the year.

The first Black Friday, September 24, 1869, was not even about shopping. It marked a devastating crash of the United States Gold Market. Now, the day after Thanksgiving has turned into a day of frantic, potentially dangerous shopping for bargain hunters throughout the world. Finding the perfect gift at a great price can make the season memorable, but risking an injury, or worse, can ruin the holidays. While gun violence is an extreme example of the potential dangers facing Black Friday shoppers, dozens of well-wishing gifters have been hurt by “retail-rage,” frenzied crowds, and pepper-spray attacks over the past ten years.

Understanding the most common shopping injuries and knowing the essential Black Friday safety tips can ensure your holiday experience is one filled with joy. If you find yourself in an unfortunate incident and injured while shopping, understanding a retailer's liability can help you take the next steps towards a healthy recovery. Put safety at the top of your holiday list this year; good health is one of the most valuable gifts you have.

Common Causes of Shopping Injuries & Black Friday Safety Tips to Prevent Them

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Every day, 25,000 people in the U.S. are injured in slip and fall accidents. With the massive influx of people into malls on Black Friday, the risk factor increases. Floors are slippery from rain, snow, ice, and mud tracked in by the shoppers.  Shoppers drop things and leave them in the aisle where they land. Items fall off of shelves.

Safety Tips:

Wear sturdy shoes with soles that are not smooth or slick. Try not to rush just to keep up with the crowds. When you are rushed, frustrated, or fatigued, the chances of tripping and falling increase. Stay alert. Watch where you are going. Look out for debris. Do not let fatigue and frustration interfere with your concentration on your surroundings.

Pepper Spray Injuries

A woman shopping for an Xbox in Walmart used pepper spray aimed at other shoppers apparently to get them out of her way. At least 20 people were injured. They suffered from burning eyes, skin and throat, and had swollen faces. Some had to be transported to a hospital for medical care. The sprayer made it to the check-out stand and left, but she turned herself into police the next day. A fire captain referred to the act as “competitive shopping.”

Safety Tips:

If you come into contact with pepper spray, try to stay calm. Do not rub the affected area. As tempting as it will be to rub your eyes, don’t do it! If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them immediately. The spray is oil-based, and rubbing will only make the burning sensation worse.  Although splashing your eyes with water will help, water won’t wash the chemical off of your skin. The intense burning sensation will last about 30 minutes.

Be Prepared and Aware

To stay safe, it’s important to be proactive. You can avoid injury – or contracting illness, such as COVID-19 – by focusing on preventative ways to stay safe.

Safety Tips:

  • Shop at retailers that maintain a strong security presence.
  • Patron shopping centers and stores that are well lit inside and outside.
  • Wear appropriate face coverings, practice social distancing, do extra hand washing, and carry hand sanitizer.
  • Try to use digital forms of payment to remain contactless, but if you do need cash, be sure to get money from the ATM or from inside of the bank a day or so before Black Friday. People getting money from ATMs on Black Friday are easy targets for thieves and scammers.
  • Limit the number of debit cards, credit cards, and gift cards you bring shopping; always keep your wallet in your front pocket safe from pickpockets.
  • Practice safety in numbers by shopping with a friend or family member; if alone, check-in with a loved one or friend so they know you’re safe.
  • Leave your small children at home with another adult.
  • Limit the number of shopping bags you carry at any given time so you can easily navigate crowds.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times and note where security guards are positioned in case you need help.

Proactive measures, along with adhering to common sense shopping safety tips, will outweigh reactive ones every time. Plan ahead and you’ll be safer.

Crowd Crush Injuries

Some shoppers camp in parking lots waiting for the store’s early morning opening hour. As the time approaches for the doors to open, large crowds begin swelling and pushing, all trying to be as close to the open doors as possible. This can have devastating effects. In a Long Island Walmart in 2008, a store worker was knocked to the floor near the entrance. Witnesses reported shoppers just trampled right over his limp body, which lay motionless in the aisle. The crowd actually crushed him to death. A co-worker and a witness were also knocked to the ground and thought he himself was going to die. He commented that the dead man was “bum-rushed by 200 people.” A woman who was eight months pregnant was also trampled and hospitalized for observation. Several other people were injured.

Safety Tips:

Surviving a rushing crowd takes energy. Pay close attention to where you are and where the exits are. If you feel unsafe, try to find a way to ease yourself out of the crowd. If the crowd is blocking you so you cannot escape, make an effort to stay calm and don’t panic. If the crowd reaches the stampede level, find a place where you can hide out instead of joining the rushing crowd. If there is a wall nearby, ease yourself to it and lean against it. Maintain your balance. If you feel yourself falling, reach out to someone who is close to you.

With COVID-19 social distancing measures in place, unruly crowds should hopefully be less of an issue in 2020, but when a retailer presents a competitive deal, people may lose common sense, and the craziness of past Black Fridays may prevail. If a store feels like it’s unsafe due to risks associated with the current coronavirus pandemic, look to shop elsewhere. No deal is worth injury or contracting COVID-19 due to a lack of safety procedures.

Liability of Stores for Black Friday Injuries

CNN refers to Black Friday as a “shopacalypse.” Traditionally, store owners spend mega-bucks on advertising Black Friday sales and hire large numbers of temporary workers to make it through the day. They expect massive crowds. So, you ask, what is their liability for injuries suffered on their premises? Under common law, the liability of property owners depended on whether the injured person was a(n):

  • Trespasser: one who is on the property uninvited.
  • Licensee: one who is on the property with the permission of the owner.
  • Invitee: one who is on the property for the purpose of providing a benefit to the business owner.

When businesses invite people to their property to spend money, the business owner owes the shopper’s highest duty of care. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established crowd management guidelines, particularly for events like Black Friday sales. Their Black Friday safety tips include:

  • Hiring extra staff and security designed to compensate for the extra shoppers.
  • Providing crowd control.
  • Making certain no entrances or exits are blocked.
  • Having a separate entrance for employees.
  • Anticipating and planning for problems that come from increased pedestrian traffic in the store.
  • The store may not be able to protect you from being sucker-punched by another irate shopper, but it should have emergency treatment options available if such a thing should happen.

The year 2020 may be slightly different due to COVID-19, but Bloomberg News indicates all signs indicate retailers are desperate to get people back into their stores after such a stagnant sales year with billions of dollars lost. Retailers will be placing fewer racks on the floor, putting up plexiglass, and positioning social distancing markers on the floors for those that prefer to snag deals in-person rather than online, sight unseen. That being the case, the Black Friday dangerous events of years past can still occur this year.

Even if stores limit capacity, lines will be shifted outside the stores, which can come with the same crowd-inducing risks as prior years. An alternative option is to look for online deals with curbside pickup or look for pre-Black Friday sales, which have become increasingly common in recent years with Amazon’s boom and other online merchants’ exponential growth.

Put These Black Friday Safety Tips at the Top of Your Shopping List

With advertisements for Black Friday sales already underway, families throughout New York plan their strategy to get the best deals. Undoubtedly, they’ll get up at the crack of dawn, don their masks, and begin lining up hours before the scheduled opening of a store.

Those of us familiar with Black Friday know it can get pretty intense, even in a non-pandemic year. This year no one knows how things will shake out with pandemic safety procedures or if they’ll even work as designed. 

If you plan to join the crowds on the busiest shopping day of the year, our best advice for you comes in an old proverb, “It is better to be safe than sorry.” Be proactive to increase your safety. Make sure to wear your face covering; keep your distance from others, wash hands, and sanitize frequently. Also, be willing to walk away from any situation that looks like it could get ugly or dangerous. In the end, compromising your safety is not worth a good deal. This holiday shopping year, there is enough competitiveness amongst retailers where you can nab another – and potentially better – deal in another brick and mortar store or, even better, online.

Howard Raphaelson
Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Established in New York, NY, his personal injury law firm has obtained numerous million-dollar verdicts. With over twenty-five years of experience as a personal injury attorney, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine).
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