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F.W. Woolworth v. Kirby

Alabama Supreme Court
302 So. 2d 67 (1974)


Facts

A Woolco store in Huntsville, Alabama, planned a promotional event in which an airplane would drop ping-pong balls into the parking lot behind the store. Each ping-pong ball, when redeemed inside Woolco, would entitle its finder to a prize. Prizes ranged from ice cream cones to televisions. Woolco advertised the event heavily. On the morning of the scheduled ping-pong drop, there were approximately 4,500 people gathered in Woolco’s parking lot. The plane made three passes over the parking lot, dropping 1/3 of the balls with each pass. Between the second and third drop, Lona Kirby (plaintiff) and her grandson entered the crowd in the parking lot. Kirby was 70 years old. Shortly thereafter, the pilot made his third pass, dropping the remaining ping-pong balls. As the crowd dashed for the bouncing balls, Kirby was knocked down and run over by some of the attendees. Kirby’s hip was broken in the stampede. Some other members of the crowd suffered minor injuries, too. Kirby sued F.W. Woolworth Company (Woolworth) (defendant) for negligence alleging, among other theories of liability, that the store had failed to police or control the crowd that had gathered for the promotion. A jury found in favor of Kirby, determining that Woolco owed a duty of reasonable care to Kirby and negligently failed to take steps to protect her and other members of the crowd, such as by policing the crowd with Woolco personnel. The jury awarded Kirby $52,500 in damages. Woolworth appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly charged the jury regarding whether Woolworth owed Kirby a duty of care to protect her from the acts of other store patrons.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Heflin, C.J.)

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