Sometimes it’s better to just let things go.
That could be the mantra for overprotective retail clerks and loss-prevention agents everywhere following a lawsuit in Santa Rosa civil court by a would-be shoplifter who was badly injured when he was tackled by a grocery store manager.
The clash happened July 13, 2011 when plaintiff Johnny Ramirez was stealing a bottle of rum from the Rohnert Park Raley’s, according to a tentative ruling from Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Arthur Wick.
Ramirez tucked the glass bottle into his waistband and ran out the door, only to be stopped by manager Shea Carpenter, who tackled him to the asphalt, Wick wrote.
The bottle broke when he hit the ground, causing injury that required emergency surgery. Ramirez later sued the grocery chain and the manager for monetary damages.
He argued Carpenter acted with negligence because he was aware of the fact that the bottle was in his waistband and could break if he tackled him. Under the law, negligent behavior warrants higher punitive damages.
This week, Judge Wick said there were no grounds for Ramirez to seek punitive damages from the store. But he said Carpenter could be held liable because he knew the consequences of his actions and failed to avoid them.
Carpenter couldn’t be reached for comment. A store employee said he left the company six months ago. Raley’s spokeswoman Nicole Townsend said in an email the company doesn’t discuss pending cases.
The lawsuit illustrates a tension retailers face in preventing loss while avoiding being sued by thieves. Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles-based security consultant, says the law allows merchants to use force to detain shoplifters. It just has to be applied reasonably.
Some retailers adopt hands-off policies to avoid big payouts. For example, if a shoplifter is out the door, they let them go. But others actively detain people when shoplifting starts hitting the bottom line.
McGoey, an advisor to major retail chains, said thinking on the dilemma is cyclical. He wouldn’t discuss specific store policies.
“The law says you can get physical,” McGoey said. “You absolutely have a right to recover your merchandise. And you absolutely have the right to use focrce. It just has to be reasonable under the circumstances.”