From fist fights to identity theft, shopping on Black Friday brings a few safety risks all holiday gifters should know.
Years ago, a Black Friday shopping trip changed the lives of two families forever. For reasons still unknown, two mothers got into an argument which 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 the deaths of both men 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 frenzied, 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, 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.
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, 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 witness was 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 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.
Liability Of Stores For Black Friday Injuries
CNN refers to Black Friday as a “shopacalypse.” 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 for the purpose of spending money, the business owner owes the highest duty of care to the shopper.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established guidelines for crowd management, 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.
Put Safety At The Top Of Your Shopping List
With advertisements for Black Friday sales already underway, families throughout New York are planning their strategy to get the best deals and undoubtedly will begin lining up hours before the scheduled opening of a store. Those of us familiar with Black Friday know it can get pretty intense. If you plan to join the crowds on the busiest shopping day of the year, our best advice for you comes from the signature line in a 1980s television show, “Hills Street Blues” which proclaimed: “Let’s be careful out there.”
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