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The Dark Side of Savings: Black Friday Stampedes

November 22, 2018
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As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey has left the table, many Americans turn their focus sharply towards Christmas. Trees are chosen and dressed, decorations are brought down from the attic or in from the garage and dusted off, and many families choose to get an early start on shopping for presents. “Black Friday,” as the day after Thanksgiving has come to be known in the last couple of decades, is a day when many retailers recognize this trend by offering special sales and incentives to shoppers. Big retailers such as Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, and Target will participate in Black Friday this year. [1] Consumers can find great deals on anything from TVs to coffee makers to clothing and children’s toys.

However, with the best deals come some surprising safety risks. When deals are too good, they often draw large crowds to shopping malls and department stores, gathering many hours before the stores open. When doors do open, they can create stampede conditions. In 2013, a Walmart employee named Jdimytai Damour found himself being trampled and crushed to death by a mob of crazed shoppers looking to score a deal on a flat screen TV. Four other people were injured in the same incident, including a pregnant woman who miscarried as a result of her injuries. Walmart has implemented tighter security since the incident. [2]

Harvard scientists have been studying the phenomenon of the shopping stampede. Researchers started by looking at crowded concerts, but they have noticed similar patterns at rallies, protests, and Black Friday sales events. They use computational tools to model how crowds of people move and to predict the risks that arise when people are packed together tightly. They observed that, when people are packed together densely enough, they lose individual control over how they collide with others. This can lead to an increase in collisions and overall pressure. They also found that people in high-density situations move toward a “common point of interest.” Those closest to the point of interest experience the highest pressure. [3] In other words, the closer you are to the cheap flat screen TV, the more likely you are to be crushed or otherwise injured.

While deaths from Black Friday stampedes are rare, injuries are almost commonplace. In 2011 a 32-year-old woman from California doused a crowd with pepper spray in order to score a deal on an Xbox. She injured about 20 other shoppers but claimed self-defense and was never charged. In 2010 a U.S. Marine reservist was stabbed while trying to stop a fleeing thief at a Black Friday event at a Best Buy in Georgia. In 2009 an elderly man from New York was shot by thieves trying to steal a flat screen TV he had just bought at a Black Friday sale. [4]

However, not all Black Friday sales are equally dangerous for shoppers. A 2015 study found that Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee shoppers are the most violent on Black Friday. Data came from the real estate website Estately, which compiled FBI crime reports and Facebook mentions of Black Friday. Other states that are relatively more dangerous on Black Friday, according to this methodology, include Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Kansas, and South Carolina. [5]

While Black Friday sales may be enticing, any situation that involves large crowds and a single geographic target are dangerous. Consider waiting until later in the day or foregoing a deal altogether and instead enjoying the day at home with loved ones. Cyber Monday is another day with great deals, and all of those sales can be accessed with an Internet connection from the comfort of your own home, without risk of injury. If you do find yourself injured in a Black Friday sale or other crowded event, be sure to contact an experienced personal injury attorney after seeking medical care so that you can understand your rights as an injured party.

[1] https://blackfriday.com

[2] https://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/5-worst-happened-black-friday-article-1.2445679

[3] https://www.inverse.com/article/24256-black-friday-human-stampede-collective-motion-physics-thanksgiving

[4] https://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/5-worst-happened-black-friday-article-1.2445679

[5] https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/black-friday-study-shows-state-shoppers-violent-article-1.2444935






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