Walmart's popular practice of allowing overnight RV and van parking is called into question after woman sues over fatal parking-lot fire

Walmart's popular practice of allowing overnight RV and van parking is called into question after woman sues over fatal parking-lot fire
·3 min read
Walmart
Shoppers visit a Walmart store.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
  • A woman is suing Walmart for a parking lot fire that killed one of her daughters in 2019.

  • Walmart has long welcomed people traveling overnight in RVs and vans into its lots.

  • But the suit shines a new light on the popular practice.

Walmart parking lots have long been a haven for recreational vehicles and other drivers looking to sleep in their cars. But a new lawsuit has invited scrutiny on that practice.

A woman named Essie McKenzie is suing Walmart after her 6-year-old daughter was killed and another daughter, then 9 years old, was left "disfigured" when their minivan became engulfed in flames.  The incident took place during the early morning of August 6, 2019, at a Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota.

According to the lawsuit, the fire began when a man and woman from California, who had camped in the Walmart lot the evening before, moved their 2005 Dodge Caravan to a spot next to McKenzie's vehicle, a 2014 Caravan.  McKenzie was out of the van at the time, shopping in the store. Her daughters were asleep inside the vehicle.

According to the lawsuit, the California man had used a camping stove to make breakfast on the pavement that morning and stored the stove in the back of his vehicle "without waiting for it to cool and tossed some bedding on top of the cook stove." He then moved the vehicle to a spot adjacent to McKenzie's and entered the store.

While he was in Walmart, the van caught fire and the blaze spread to neighboring vehicles, including McKenzie's.  The man who lit up and stored the camping stove received a sentence of 120 days in jail in 2020, according to a report by The Miami Herald's Mitchell Willetts.

McKenzie's lawsuit, filed last month in U.S District Court in Minnesota, accuses Walmart of failing to monitor and protect "overnight guests" in the parking lot. The suit is asking for at least $75,000.

"Our sympathies remain with the friends and family impacted by this tragic event three years ago," a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement to Insider. "We plan to defend the company and will respond in Court to the Complaint as appropriate."

 

Walmart has traditionally welcomed RV-based customers, as well as other drivers who opt to spend the night in its lots.

"While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers," the company said in a FAQ page on its website. "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 availability of parking space and local laws."

That has made the big-box giant a hit with many campers and individuals opting for an RV-based lifestyle. But those days may be ending. In 2020, CNN reported that the number of Walmart stores allowing overnight RV parking had dropped sharply, from 78% to around 58%.

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