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Could lawsuit against Walmart doom overnight RV parking?

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.

PLEASE TAKE THE QUICK READER POLL AT BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.

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.

READER POLL
If overnight RV stays at Walmart and other big box stores were banned, would it affect your RVing? Answer the poll here.

Related:

The Walmart of the future may not include overnight RV parking

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thirty-thousand
1 month ago

It seems to me that the woman who left her children in the car, while she shopped is guilty of child endangerment!

Steven Peterson
1 month ago

I feel sorry for this woman, but it is not Walmart’s fault!

Deborah Hammons
1 month ago

Where I live in Ohio, we are to report unattended children to police. The mother should not have left her children in the car alone.

Donald N Wright
1 month ago

Here in Texas, if we had found unattended children in a car, we are instructed to call the Police or Fire Department. I am sorry for the family, but this is not Walmart’s fault. Maybe we should sue the lawyer instead.

Shane
1 month ago

The mother should have not left young children in a parking lot, unattended.

This tragedy could also have been a bad person abducting the children.

Sue the one truly responsible. The camper owner. Oh, that right. Can’t get blood from a turnip. So go where the money is, even if they’re not responsible.

Who decided to park next to a stranger in an old camper?

Will
1 month ago

What would have prevented tge children’s death? Had their mother taken them with her shopping.

Leslie Berg
1 month ago

Given how fast the fire spread (van was fully engulfed in 2.5 minutes according to surveillance video) even monitoring wouldn’t have prevented the child’s death. Even in campgrounds or trailer parks, which are often monitored, this could still have happened. Where stores have security, if security was on the other side of the parking lot, or engaged with an issue, this still could have happened. Someone would have had to be posted right next to this van for it to have been prevented, and it isn’t reasonable to expect that level of security anywhere. The only way it could have been prevented was by mom taking the kids in with her. This will be an interesting case.

MattD
1 month ago

Such a sad situation…but Walmart had NO control over the mother who left her children in the car just like Walmart had NO control over a guy who leaves a hot stove under blankets and pillows in his car.

Janis
1 month ago
Reply to  MattD

Is that how it happened! What an idiot! Why would he do such a stupid thing.

DebB
1 month ago

So the man spends some time in jail for accidentally starting a fire. Yet, the parent gets NO time for leaving the child unattended in the vehicle? I feel bad for the Mom, deceased kid and the one left living. I feel bad for all of them including the man. All their lives will be changed forever, but suing someone for your own neglect… tsk, tsk, tsk!

Shane
1 month ago
Reply to  DebB

Dirty lawyers.

gs9219
1 month ago

I have about had it with misguided people suing others that have no culpability whatever. This is tragic, for sure; I’m saddened by the loss of this young girl, but… Whatever happened to the legal profession? (don’t answer that). Formerly, professional attorneys would “parent” some of these people and tell them to grow up, take responsibility… this has “Walmart has deep pockets” written all over it.

Jeanne H
1 month ago

my thoughts on this- mom is ultimately responsible for leaving the kids. I would think the 9yo might have been able to leave the car- but I would bet the mom locked the car and it had the child proof locks on the back doors. That would have prevented a panicked child from getting out of the car.

Douglas C Rutz
1 month ago
Jeff Craig
1 month ago
Reply to  Douglas C Rutz

Thank you for sharing this – the fact it was just a ‘regular’ Dodge Caravan (conversion??) really explained the situation.

Vick Barker
1 month ago

So no charges filed against the mom for child abandonment, endangering a child, or other passive parenting infractions?

Suru
1 month ago

What a tragedy & I believe there is fault on both sides (van owner & the mother). Too bad Walmart tries to do something nice, but people take advantage. On any given day the Walmart parking lot in my small town is usually full of RVs. Sometimes taking up at least a 3rd of the parking lot. I’ve seen the same RVS there for days with the slides out. One day a guy with a 40ft 5th wheel parked in front of the store blocking two drive aisles and fought with the manager about moving. I’m sure RV parking at my neighborhood Walmart will soon be banned.

John
1 month ago

Well from other comments, this was 3 years ago. It was a regular van, not an actual camper. It happened around 6am. If it was a 24 hr Walmart, “overnight RV Parking” would not really affect. They could have stopped to shop there at 5:30 and hadn’t left yet. And as to the whole “overnight ban” that can be tricky, not only Walmart, etc., but rest areas. Technically, if I pull into a rest area at 9pm and sleep until 1145pm, then drive to the next rest area and park at 12:30am, and sleep until 5:30am, I have NOT “overnight parked”. I “late night parked” and then separately “early morning parked”.

Last edited 1 month ago by John
Lorelei
1 month ago
Reply to  John

Yes, I did that once. I suppose it wouldn’t stop the police from bothering, and I don’t know if they would have believed me. I also did shop in the store.

Philip
1 month ago

The article states that the van owner settled her lawsuit against him for $130.000.

Jewel
1 month ago
Reply to  Philip

You are referencing a civil suit with the van owner that is separate from this suit.

ray Shepherd
1 month ago

Why were the kids left alone in the car? That itself is child endangerment.

David Hagen
1 month ago
Reply to  ray Shepherd

Yes. The mother should be charged with leaving children unattended in the car.

Marie Beschen
1 month ago

It doesn’t say how old the “kids” were, or how long or why she chose to park next to the van. At that hour, she could have parked anywhere, and as a parent, you would think you would park the closest to the store you could, away from any “suspicious” others; so am guessing, she had been there over-night as well. If so, then, using “monitoring” as a legal issue, RV parks don’t drive around all night and “monitor” us either.

Jewel
1 month ago
Reply to  Marie Beschen

The article I read said the girls were 6 and 9. The 6 year old died. Both were too young to legally be left alone. Negligence on their mother’s part and irrelevant whether the people were camped overnight since they had pulled into the site AFTER she parked.

Joe Capone
1 month ago

What was she doing leaving her kids in the car all by themselves. She was to blame, fire or not.

Janis
1 month ago

I am surprised that her car was parked next to the camper. Aren’t the rv’ers suppose to park way in the back of the parking lot? Even if it’s a van it shouldn’t be parked anywhere near the customers cars. (I also wouldn’t leave my kids in the car that young). I would also not park next to a van with my kids in the car, even if it weren’t a camper.

Janis
1 month ago
Reply to  Randall Brink

Didn’t realize that. But I probably would do the same thing if I left my kids in the car. (though I wouldn’t). If I lost my kids in an incident like that I would probably sue too out of anger. Losing a child is terrible, and a person doesn’t want to be told its their fault. Nobody would ever dream something like this would happen; I’m sure the mother thought her kids would be safe especially since Wal-Mart has cameras everywhere. Who would ever thought a van parked next to you would catch fire. I feel so sorry for this family losing a child and almost losing another.

Jewel
1 month ago
Reply to  Janis

Yes, they can’t say he was camping there since he pulled in after she did. She should never have left her children in a public parking lot unattended. Such a terrible case but Walmart is not to blame.

Craig Seitz
1 month ago

Sad when people, rather than seeing their fault in the incident (leaving small children alone), prefer to blame the deep pockets of Wal-Mart.

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