December 12, 1997

Image of today's outrage

Want to make a million dollars?

Forget about work or business — that path is fraught with frustration and rejection, sweat and tears. Just go shopping.

Don’t dress too nicely. Do whatever it takes to make it appear as if you might have stolen something.

Ten billion dollars a year is lost by American stores due to shoplifting. Stores hire security guards to prevent theft. Sometimes the guards make mistakes, like the rest of us, and wrongly accuse someone of shoplifting.

If you’re the person wrongly accused, you can make an easy million.

In October we told you the story of Alonzo Jackson and his two friends, who were awarded a million dollars after an Eddie Bauer security guard wrongly accused Jackson of stealing a shirt.

The latest winner is Paula Hampton of Kansas City. She won a grand total of $1,156,000 after she was wrongly accused of shoplifting by a security guard at Dilliard’s department store.

The case hinged on the fact that Ms. Hampton was denied a free fragrance gift.

Not only did Ms. Hampton win big, but she even won more than she asked for. She sought a million dollars in punitive damages, and the jury actually awarded her $1.1 million, plus $56,000 in compensatory damages.

Both the Jackson and Hampton cases hinged on discrimination — both Hampton and Jackson said they were accused of shoplifting because they are black. Amazingly enough, despite the million dollar verdicts, in neither case did the jury decide that the security guard acted with racist intent. In neither case did the security guard use physical force.

The Hampton case was won, in part, on statistics introduced that state a disproportionate number of blacks had been stopped in that particular Dilliard’s on suspicion of shoplifting. Yes, well, so what? There are a disproportionate number of men in prison, as compared to women, yet no one seriously makes the case that men are, as a class, discriminated against in the penal system. (Well, okay, maybe DO will make that argument in the future.)

In addition to the gross injustice of awarding people millions of dollars for minor grievances, these awards, and other cases like them now percolating through the legal system, will have some serious long-range effects. First of all, despite the vast losses due to shoplifting, retailers will be extremely reluctant to accuse anyone of shoplifting. Real shoplifters, of all races, will soon discover that they have a license to steal. Those losses are going to get passed along in the form of higher prices to the rest of us. As it is, honest consumers are the ones that ultimately pay for these damage judgments as well as the huge legal costs involved.

For those readers who think judgments such as the Alonzo and Hampton ones are always overturned or reduced on appeal, we’d like to direct you to the Paula Coughlin story we did earlier this year. The $5 million judgment against Hilton was actually upheld in May. (Hilton was not accused of harassment, but only of not preventing harassment of the naval aviator by her fellow Navy officers.)

In honor of the Hampton ruling, we’d like to introduce a new song, and we hope DO readers will help us with the lyrics. Gather round now, as we all sing:

I’m a victim
And so are you
If we get a good lawyer
We can get rich too!

(Source:The Kansas City Star.)


Quote of the Day!

America is the paradise of lawyers.

— Justice David J. Brewer

© Copyright 1996-98, The Outrage is produced by Athens New Media. All rights reserved.

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