An Alabama woman was awarded $2.1 million in damages on Monday after she sued Walmart, claiming she was falsely arrested for shoplifting.
The Mobile County Circuit Court Jury ruled in favor of Lesleigh Nurse on Monday for an abuse of process claim. The jury ruled in favor of Walmart on other claims including false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and slander, according to court documents.
In November 2016, Nurse was stopped while exiting a Walmart with groceries she had purchased. At the time, she explained to workers that she had used the self-checkout but the scanning device froze, requiring an employee to help her; however, the workers allegedly did not accept her explanation, according to AL.com.
Nurse's case was dismissed a year later for "want of prosecution."
But the Alabama woman said she received letters from a law firm in Florida that threatened a civil suit against her if she did not pay a $200 settlement, which was even more than the price of the groceries the workers alleged that she stole, AL.com reported.
Nurse said Walmart instructed the firm to send the letter, and her lawsuit alleged that it was a pattern within the company to falsely accuse shoppers of stealing.
"The defendants have engaged in a pattern and practice of falsely accusing innocent Alabama citizens of shoplifting and thereafter attempting to collect money from the innocently accused," Nurse's lawsuit said, per AL.com.
"Walmart funds its asset protection department by intimidating those falsely accused of shoplifting out of making a claim against Walmart out of fear of protracted litigation against an almost limitlessly funded corporate giant," the suit added.
During the trial, an expert testified that the company regularly used the practice of charging the accused settlements in some states where this kind of move is legal. According to the testimony, Walmart made hundreds of millions of dollars in just two years using the practice, WKRG, a local CBS affiliate, reported.
Defense attorneys for Walmart said the practice is legal in Alabama.
"We discontinued that program several years ago," Randy Hargrove, a spokesperson for Walmart, told The Hill with regard to the settlement payments, which he referred to as civil recovery. "Civil Recovery statutes exist as one way retailers can recoup losses caused by the tens of billions lost to theft annually, and they are not profit centers. That characterization about our company was not accurate."
"We continue to believe our associates acted appropriately. We don't believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and the damages awarded exceed what is allowed by law. We will be filing post-trial motions," Hargrove added.
Updated 3:11 p.m.