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— This is the pickle-jar case, which is another highly distorted, urban-myth generated by ATRA to promote tort reform. —
This is the crux of the Vanender vz Sheets Inc case which ATRA has distorted, and then widely promoted as a case where an employee of a grocery store received $3.5 million in damages because she strained her back opening a pickle jar.
Established in 1952 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Sheetz, Inc. is one of America's fastest growing family-owned and operated convenience store chains, with more than $3.9 billion in revenue for 2007 and more than 11,000 employees. The company operates over 365 convenience locations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.
Sheetz provides an award-winning menu of Made-to-Order subs, sandwiches and salads, which are ordered through unique touch-screen order point terminals.
Sheetz currently ranks 98th on the Forbes list of largest private companies and has received awards in both Ohio and Pennsylvania for being named among their Best Places to Work in 2007. All Sheetz convenience stores are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
Some key documents
|Reference documents used below|
- Oil Strike in Hell by Marc Galanter
- Tort Deform - Lethal Bedfellows by John Gannon
1997: Vandevender v. Sheetz, Inc., 490 S.E.2d 678 (West Virginia 1997)
1997 Aug: A West Virginia convenience store worker Cheryl Vanevender [aka Vanender] was awarded an astonishing $2,699,000 in punitive damages after she injured her back when she opened a pickle jar, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. She also received $130,066 in compensation and $170,000 for emotional distress.
The State Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard called this award an "outrageous sum," stating in his dissenting opinion: "I know an excessive punitive damages award when I see one, and I see one here."
The court, however, upheld most of the punitive damages: $ 2.2 million.
[Source: Legal Briefs, Issue Seven, August 15, 1997]
[Legal Briefs is published by the National Center for Public Policy Research run by Amy Moritz Ridenour, an ex-Philip Morris employed lobbyist. She now runs this tobacco- and industry-funded, right-wing think-tank in Washington, and the NCPPR has become the source for many of ATRA's stories]
1998: Marc Galanter says "Although the name was slightly off, I was able to find the West Virginia Supreme Court decision in this case." Vanevender was suing her previous employer, a very large convenience store franchaise chain, Sheetz, Inc.
The trial court had found punitive damages justified by
On appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court, applied its earlier punitive damages holdings and the then-new holding of the US Supreme Court in BMW v. Gore. The majority found that the:
- the defendant's illegal course of conduct for a period of nearly five years...including
- refusing to accommodate plaintiff's work restrictions,
- refusing to reinstate plaintiff after suffering a compensable workplace injury,
- discharging plaintiff from employment,
- refusing to rehire plaintiff...
- retaliating against a manager who testified contrary to defendant Sheetz, Inc.'s position and
- retaliating against plaintiff upon her negotiated return to work by requiring her to perform work activities which defendant's managers knew she could not perform without risking re-aggravating her injuries or causing new injury.
- ratio of punitive to compensatory damages excessive, on both
- the unlawful termination
- failure to rehire claims
They found that the evidence was insufficient to show that these actions were prompted by malice or involved fraud, trickery or deceit.
- However, with regard to the retaliation claim, the court upheld the verdict's high ratio since it found that Sheetz had "crossed the line from reckless disregard of an individual's rights, to willful, mean-spirited acts indicative of an intent to cause physical or emotional harm."