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Everyday Low Verdicts: Internet Site Tracks Wal-Mart Litigation.

It may be the world's largest retailer, but Wal-Mart Stores Inc. won't shrink from the threat of a lawsuit -- not even a small one, according to a new web site on the Internet.

The company's vast legal "extranet" -- an electronic newsletter of sorts that provides information to its attorneys across the country -- has prompted a Nashville, Tenn., lawyer to fight back.

Lewis L. Laska recently started www.wal-martlitigation.com to centralize information for lawyers who have a potential legal battle with Wal-Mart.

"Wal-Mart is a formidable opponent in court," according to www.wal-martlitigation.com. "It retains some of the best lawyers in the country, who have considerable experience defending the company. These lawyers are not afraid to take a case to trial. And when they lose Wal-Mart will usually appeal, even small verdicts."

"The intent of this site certainly speaks for itself," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Wal-Mart. "This clearly isn't pro bono work."

Among the cases against Wal-Mart listed on the web page are:

* A $571,777 jury verdict for the car-jacking of a customer in a store parking lot in Oxnard, Calif., on Jan. 9, 1998. In this case, Wal-Mart has rejected an award of $58,000 suggested by an arbitrator.

* A $7.2 million settlement on Feb. 22 in two lawsuits pertaining to a shooting. The gunman purchased a Winchester shotgun from a Wal-Mart store in Hartselle, Ala., despite being under a restraining order.

* A $3.6 million jury verdict in Missouri for the death of a baby who burned to death because of a defective fan sold by a Wal-Mart store.

* An award of $7,5000 in December 1999 because Wal-Mart photo lab employees made duplicate copies of nude photos of an 18-year-old customer customer and "passed them around."

* A wrongful death suite filed in the case of a Kentucky Wal-Mart employee who died in November 1998 of a heart attack after she repeatedly asked for a break or to be allowed to go home.

Most recently, Wal-Mart was hit with a $50 million judgment for stealing a business idea from a small company that was based in Little Rock.

On March 22, 2 Texarkana jury ordered Wal-Mark to pay $31.7 million in damages, plus interest bringing the total to about $50 million, to three businessmen whose idea for boosting sales was taken by Wal-Mart without compensation.

The jury found Wal-Mart "maliciously and willfully misappropriated trade secrets" from the businessmen, who approached the company in 1992 with a plan to increase sales at its Sam's Club discount ware-house stores.

Plaintiffs Joe O'Banion, Leonard Hoffman and Michael McNew, who together ran a business called P.O. Market Inc., filed suite last April.

Wal-Mart's lawyer peter Cumbe said the company will appeal the ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The three businessman claimed they spent several months in 1992 and 1993 discussing with Wal-Mart executive a concept for helping Sam's Club stores improve sales by offering credit to large customers.

The plaintiffs said Wal-Mart promised to protect the confidentiality of P.O. Market's plan and repeatedly told O'Banion's group they had a deal.

But instead of commissioning P.O. Market to carry out the credit sales plan for big customers, the plaintiffs said Wal-Mart instead rolled out its own plan based on the concept laid out by P.O. Market.

"Wal-Mart never compensated P.O. Market for Sam's Club's use of the O'Banion Concept," the plaintiffs said in their suit.

Sometimes, it pays off for Wal-Mart to appeal these decisions.

On March 22, Wal-Mart won a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower-court decision against the company for copying the design used by another company the manufactures children's clothing, Samara Brothers Inc.

A jury awarded Samara $912,856 in damages for copyright infringement and $240,458 for "trade dress" infringement. A U.S. appeals court upheld nearly all of the damages.

But the Supreme Court reversed the ruling.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in the opinion that design, like color, was not inherently distinctive and cannot always quality for legal protection.
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Comment:Everyday Low Verdicts: Internet Site Tracks Wal-Mart Litigation.
Author:Bowden, Bill
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 3, 2000
Words:677
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