Supermarkets and Shopping Cart Liability
May 17, 2006 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Why aren't supermarkets liable for damage as a result of their shopping carts?

Many years ago, when the first supermarket (a Giant) in my neighborhood to allow shoppers to walk their shopping carts into the parking, they installed specific areas for patrons to return their shopping cart. Oddly, there is still the random asshole who would rather leave their cart in a handicapped spot than return their cart. I digress.

When the other supermarkets in the area followed suit, they did not install the areas for shopping carts in their parking lots. Prominently displayed on the exit doors, though, is the disclaimer that the stores are not responsible for damage to vehicles as a result of the shopping carts.

If my car has been damaged as a result of a shopping cart, it's hard for me to notice between all the paint scratches from people slamming their doors against mine. However, it would seem that if someone had their car damaged because of a shopping cart, it's expressly the fault of the supermarket. Said damage would have happened on their property, inucrred by their equipment, and the supermarket has made the decision to leave their carts in the parking lot.

Is merely stating that they won't be liable for damage make them not liable for damage?
posted by clearlynuts to Law & Government (14 answers total)
 
Said damage would have happened on their property, inucrred by their equipment, and the supermarket has made the decision to leave their carts in the parking lot.

So if you were assaulted with a baseball bat in a sporting goods store, would the store be responsible?
posted by null terminated at 10:32 AM on May 17, 2006


Regardless of what the posted signs are around the parking lot, a proprietor can be found liable if there is gross negligence on its property.

However, the burden of proof is on you.
posted by omidius at 10:36 AM on May 17, 2006


i don't think a lot of grocery stores actually own their own land. some do, i'll admit, but usually they're leasing either the land, store or both from a 3rd party.

also, unless the store employees are out there ramming the carts into the side of your car, i think this sort of damage falls under the 'force of nature' sort of clause - no particular person is causing the damage to your car, you as the driver are also not at fault.
posted by sporky at 10:37 AM on May 17, 2006


See previous threads (and elsewhere on the web) for discussions of disclaimer validity, the short version of which is that most disclaimers amount to posturing intended to stave off lawsuits. The answer to your question is, "They can be."
posted by cribcage at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2006


Shopping carts don't cause damage. Random jerks who leave shopping carts whereever they want do.

Could you ask the store managers to be more diligent about having clerks round up the carts, or ask them to set places aside in the parking lot to ease the mess?

It does seem really stupid, in my opinion, for the stores to let that havoc be created by shopping carts willy-nilly all over the parking lot. However, I think you're on your own with the paint-dings. If it bothers you, park in the farthest spots away from the store entrance, where the parking density and shopping-cart collection are sure to be the smallest.
posted by contessa at 11:04 AM on May 17, 2006


And sorry about the new dent in your car.
posted by JigSawMan at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2006


Response by poster: I don't have a new dent in my car - not that I know of - but I did see a shopping cart roll the length of six shopping carts and hit the side of a car last weekend. Oddly enough, it rolled from the densely packed part of the parking lot to the less dense part of the parking lot, which is why it managed to roll that far.
posted by clearlynuts at 11:10 AM on May 17, 2006


There's two things going on here:

1) Ethical/moral responsibility

2) Legal responsibility


Ethically, the supermarket isn't responsible. If you truly think the supermarket is ethically/morally responsible for one of their patrons damaging your car with their cart, I suggest you consider a tune-up of your moral compass. They provide shopping carts - it's the cart user's responsibility to use it properly.

Legally, you're on some gray area, but it's probably less grey than you think.

Your statement is: "Said damage would have happened on their property, inucrred by their equipment, and the supermarket has made the decision to leave their carts in the parking lot."

Here's where it's gray. IANAL, but let's take a look at this anyway. If there is a law that says damage occurring on your property as a result of your equipment is always your fault regardless of who the "equipment user" is -- and I'm not sure that the law says this -- you now move to "interpretation" of law, and "spirit" of law.

HYPOTHETICAL: Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that no "cart corrales" were installed for people to use, and that a cart left adrift was blown hard by the wind into someone's car and scratched it (the only way I can imagine a stray cart really doing damage).

I am rather confident, despite not being a lawyer, that if this were a law, a Judge would ask "Did the supermarket or store in question make reasonable efforts to periodically retrieve carts?"

If the supermarket can say "yes, every 10 minutes someone rounds them up", it's up to the Judge to interpret if that's a reasonable precaution to prevent damage. If it is, and the cart was blown into a car within this short timeframe, the Judge could and probably would rule that the supermarket "did what it could within reason to keep the parking lot free of stray carts."


I don't know, however, that there is such a law. Even if there is:

1) I find it rather hard to believe that someone would win a lawsuit against a store claiming it's their responsibility for the wind blowing a stray cart into a car.

2) No, having a sign claiming they're not responsible does not indemnify them. I think sanity and reason, however, do indemnify them in most cases (if their employee bashes your car with their cart, though, that's different).
posted by twiggy at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2006


I agree with twiggy in that the main deciding factor would probably be whether the store was diligent in collecting them. (This is about what I think for their ethical responsibility too: unless they're being grossly negligent (or downright malicious, if the supermarket owner were deliberately ramming carts into peoples' cars.), they shouldn't be liable.)

I'm not a lawyer, but I believe that if, in a sporting goods store, you were assaulted by a customer with a baseball bat (as null terminated proposed), the store could probably end up being liable. I don't believe they should be, but there've been too many crazy rulings like that for me to doubt that it could happen.
posted by fogster at 12:19 PM on May 17, 2006


Since nobody has addressed this part of the question, I will:

Is merely stating that they won't be liable for damage make them not liable for damage?

The answer to this is "probably not". Generic "we're not liable" signage may divert lawsuits by the ill-informed, but it doesn't remove liability. You can still sue the supermarket over the damage to your car. Whether you win the suit or not is an entirely different question.
posted by gwenzel at 1:40 PM on May 17, 2006


While I have little to add about liability, I find it interesting that shopping cart etiquette seems to be regional or local. Around here I've only seen one or two stray carts since people return the majority to the little cart corals in the parking lot of the store. When I visited a friend in Baton Rouge, there were carts all over the parking lot drifting freely, as nature might have intended.
posted by mikeh at 2:22 PM on May 17, 2006


>Why aren't supermarkets liable for damage
>as a result of their shopping carts?

The supermarket itself did nothing to harm you. If an employee of the market rammed your car, then they would be responsible.

>and the supermarket has made the decision
>to leave their carts in the parking lot.

The supermarket allows people to roll carts around but usually can't force them to return carts. Every market I've ever seen sends people out to round up carts from time to time.

If you are unhappy with the lot at one site, well, try another one.
posted by Ken McE at 3:45 PM on May 17, 2006


clearlynuts writes 'Oddly enough, it rolled from the densely packed part of the parking lot to the less dense part of the parking lot.'

Osmosis.
posted by blag at 4:24 PM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


IANAL
In Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands, you must put a coin in a cart in order to unchain it from the car in front of it. This encourages returning your cart to the appropriate place (or at least to attach it to another cart).

In as much as this option is available to American stores, and they do not choose to do so, they clearly do not exercise due diligence to remedy the potential hazard.

(In the 'old days', when I was little, the stores had people to push a different cart to your car. Mom tipped them a dime)
posted by Goofyy at 6:12 AM on May 18, 2006


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