• January 14, 2019

An ultrahazardous activity in the common law of torts is one that is so inherently dangerous that a person engaged in such an activity can be held strictly liable for injuries caused to another person, even if the person engaged in the activity took every reasonable precaution to prevent others from being injured.

Examples are: transportation and storage of explosives, radioactive materials, or wild animals.

So the answer to the headline’s rhetorical question (consistent with Betteridge’s Law) is, “No, going to the Dollar Tree store is not an ultrahazardous activity.” But hear us out…

Let’s start with this basic point: the very concept of the Dollar Tree store is shaky — that one can profit selling merchandise for roughly a dollar or less. Every Dollar Tree store must have inventory, a retail location, and employees. It must pay for furnishings, equipment, shelving, electricity, heat, property taxes, etc., etc. (either directly or through rent). It is very difficult to imagine how any store could turn a profit selling its merchandise for a dollar or less. Let’s assume that Dollar Tree stores buy their merchandise for fractions of a penny per item. Or maybe they do not buy their merchandise at all but sell it on consignment. Or maybe Dollar Tree even charges other companies, wholesalers, for Dollar Tree shelf space to dump these other companies’ worthless inventory. Inventory can, of course, be less than worthless. It can have negative value. (Consider chocolate covered cotton?) However they do it, the Dollar Tree profit model strains the imagination.

And one has to assume that Dollar Tree store employees are not exhaustively trained nor highly compensated. Presumably, there is a fair amount of turn-over. It has to be even more difficult for Dollar Tree stores with unemployment being as low as it is right now.

And store security?! Don’t even think about it. To keep customers from pocketing near-worthless or literally worthless trinkets? When the profit margins almost have to be razor thin?

And is it a stretch to speculate that at least some Dollar Tree customers, on the other hand, trading dollars for near-worthless or literally worthless trinkets, as a group, might exercise poorer judgment than average?

The admittedly silly notion that the Dollar Tree business model presents an inherently hazardous risk to Dollar Tree store patrons and personnel came to mind in reading of a recent decision of U.S. District Court Judge Wilhemina M. Wright (D. Minn.) dismissing the lawsuit brought by Mr. Synquez Davis. Mr. Davis went to a Dollar Trees store in Burnsville, Minnesota to apply for a job at the store and he was shot repeatedly by an angry Dollar Tree patron who had just been in a dispute with a Dollar Tree employee. Mr. Davis’ lawyers have to work hard to think of some way to fix liability on Dollar Tree for Mr. Davis’ terrible trauma.

Judge Wright dismissed Mr. Davis’ claims, basically finding that Mr. Davis’ complaint did not adequately tie his injuries to any wrongdoing by Dollar Tree, itself. Judge Wright dismissed Mr. Davis’ claims “without prejudice,” however, meaning that his lawyers might be able to amend his complaint to plead more facts against Dollar Tree. The Dollar Tree’s strange business model, by itself, won’t be enough to hold Dollar Tree strictly liable for injuries sustained by a client who crossed the threshold of a Dollar Tree store.

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