Essie McKenzie, of Coon Rapids, MN, is suing Walmart Stores, Inc. in U.S. Federal Court in Minnesota for negligence and wrongful death.
Ms. McKenzie’s two daughters, Ty’rah and Taraji, were asleep in McKenzie’s car while their mother shopped just after 6:00 a.m. on August 6, 2019, in the Walmart parking lot located at 8450 University Avenue NE in Fridley, MN. The car was quickly engulfed in fire that started in a Dodge camper van parked next to McKenzie’s car. Ty’rah McKenzie was rescued by emergency responders but later died from smoke inhalation and burns; her sister, Taraji, was severely injured in the conflagration. The RV caught fire from a hot propane camp stove.
Complaint allegations include Walmart failing to monitor overnight campers
The complaint alleges negligence on the part of Walmart for creating a nuisance and failing to monitor overnight campers in its parking lot. The case has significant implications for RVers who have long been welcomed to remain overnight in the retailer’s parking lots.
The suit, filed on behalf of the McKenzies by attorney William Starr of Hopkins, MN, cites specific state statutes and local ordinances that Walmart allegedly violated in allowing overnight parking at its store. Plaintiffs allege that Walmart had the capability of monitoring the parking lot and the activities of the camper van owner, Roberto Lino Hipolito, but failed to do so. Hipolito, who was not named in the litigation, was sentenced in 2020 to 120 days in jail for starting the fatal fire.
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Walmart responded to the federal court filing through its spokesman Randy Hargrove: “Our sympathies remain with the friends and family affected by this tragic incident three years ago,” he said. “We plan to defend the company and will respond appropriately to the complaint in court.”
Plaintiff McKenzie is suing for “… an amount greater than $75,000, together with interest, costs, and disbursements….” The case is pending before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright in U.S. Federal Court for the District of Minnesota.
Allegations could potentially impact overnight RV campers at large retailers
Allegations in the action could potentially impact overnight RV pavement campers—not just at Walmart but at other large retailers who have historically welcomed RVers for overnight stays. The suit cites Minnesota statutes requiring campgrounds to supervise camping and ensure “orderliness and sanitation” at such facilities. It also avers that Walmart has a duty to provide personnel with the specific task to “monitor” its parking lots and the activities therein around the clock. (Most Walmart stores don’t, as they close during the late-night hours.)
For many years, RVers were often uncertain as to what the official Walmart policy was in terms of parking lot overnights. Walmart has now developed and published its RV overnight camping policy:
While we do not offer electrical services or accommodation typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers based on the availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodation before parking your RV.
RVtravel.com will continue to monitor the progress of this case and bring the news to you as it happens.
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