A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Even shopping carts at the grocery store pose a risk — so return yours to the cart corral

The way American’s consumers shop today has been changing right before our eyes. Online shopping and online grocery shopping is the new trend and Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Krogers and all the home improvement box stores are constantly looking for ways to expedite the shopping experience and make it more convenient to the consumer.

However as long as there are brick and mortar stores to visit, there will always be shopping carts available by the front entrance for you to use to help you select as much merchandise that you can transport to the front checkout counter, with hopes that you will spend more money.

Shopping carts are retailer’s life blood to profitability, and past studies have shown that retailers such as Sears who did not offer shopping carts to consumer would spend less. Consumer studies have also proven that the bigger the cart is the more that you the consumer will spend.

I can still remember one Black Friday in 1993 while working in South Arlington, Texas, our VP of Loss Prevention ordered me and the entire staff nationwide to go outside to help collect shopping carts — because he had made a calculated decision that we could make more money for the organization that day by bringing in idle shopping carts, than what we could possibly prevent in theft that day.

The first shopping cart was first invented in June 4, 1937, by Sylvan Goldman, the owner of Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain in Oklahoma after trying to envision a way to sell more groceries. His first shopping cart was a metal frame that held two wire baskets and was eventually patented in 1940. Since then the grocery cart has evolved over the next several decades for a variety of reasons, mostly to appeal to consumer needs and to increase sales but also to minimize their risk exposures from these money makers.

With any new invention or product comes a degree of risks to the end users and owners. For instance for you germaphobes out there in 2004 shopping carts were identified as a source of pathogens and have since become a public health concern. To help reduce fear and combat this supermarkets have been placing disinfectant wipes by all the front entrances to not disrupt your spending habits.

Shopping cart theft has always been a costly problem for retailers, as it’s been estimated to cost retailer $800M annually worldwide. To combat this source for loss, some retailers are now installing electronic locking wheel clamp or ‘boot’ to their shopping carts. A transmitter with a thin wire is placed around the perimeter of the parking lot, and the boot locks when the cart leaves the designated area. Store personnel must then deactivate the lock with a handheld remote to return the cart to stock.

Shopping carts are also a source for injuries to the consumers as well. According to the past study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, on average 24,000 children per year and 66 per day are rushed to the emergency room due to shopping cart accidents.

As an experienced hyperactive child who grew up in the late 60’s before grocery cart seat belts were installed, I can only guess how high that number was for my generation, but somehow most of us all survived.

Another source for incidents with shopping carts are runaway grocery cart that damages parked vehicles.

It’s not likely that a runaway shopping cart will total a vehicle but they definitely do some damage. Depending on the type of vehicle and where the carts collided with the car, you could wind up receiving estimate to repair it priced at $1000 for bumper or side door repair.

The question that looms is “Is the store liable to pay for the damage to your car?”

If you drive into any store or shopping center parking lot, you’ll almost certainly see some signs posted that state that you’re parking on private property. Whether or not the store would be liable for damage if their shopping cart damaged your car may depend on who owns and controls it.

Most stores don’t own the land that they are doing business on. Instead, they lease the commercial building and also the lot where their customers park. While other stores find that it makes more sense to buy land and develop their own properties. In either case, it’s the store’s legal duty to protect people who are visiting their stores and their property.

Under a legal concept known as premise liability, there’s a duty to protect and retail stores can be held liable for damages to your property if reasonable safety measures aren’t taken.

But it would be fair to say that a retailer has taken reasonable measures when they have posted warning signs, installed adequate number of cart corrals and scheduled attendants to collect abandoned carts throughout the lot.

As long as the carts are cleared from the corrals on a regular basis, the store could argue that it’s fulfilled its duty to protect their customer from foreseeable events like shopping cart damage. They are not required to protect you from every possible risk, just what is within reason.

A store can be held liable for damages if any of its employees were negligent. In other words, the store would have to breach a duty of care that caused a foreseeable damage. When the duty is fulfilled and there is no negligence involved, the store won’t be held liable and you will more than likely be on the hook for the damages.
If a gust of wind causes a cart to plow into your passenger side panel, then this would be considered an act of God and couldn’t be avoided by the retailer.

Now I have seen where a cart coral that was not bolted down in the parking lot and a gust of wind lifted the coral into the air and damaged to several vehicles in the parking lot; and that claim was paid because they had not safely anchored the cart coral down into the parking lot.

Many retailers and commercial developers have put a lot of focus on grading the parking lot with as little to no incline to prevent runaway carts from gravity, which would be a foreseeable event. Many retailers have gone a step further and have introduced plastic shopping carts which are not as heavy as metal carts and cause less damage.

So therefore, in most cases, unless there is proof such as video evidence showing an employee who’s supposed to be controlling carts being negligent, stores generally won’t be held liable for damages caused by carts.

It’s important to know that your auto insurance won’t pay for shopping cart damage to your vehicle if you don’t have physical damage coverage. Since vehicles that are damaged by shopping carts are parked, you’ll have to file a comprehensive claim for coverage. Sometimes it makes sense to file because you have a lower deductible, but for others that carry a higher deductible sometimes the cost of damage may fall below the deductible and you will have to eat those costs for repair.

The good thing is that filing a comprehensive claim won’t affect your future premiums unless you’ve filed multiple claims within a three-year period.

Returning grocery carts to the corral should be routine, but it’s not uncommon for many people to ignore the cart corral entirely and leave their carts next to their cars or parked haphazardly on medians. Sometimes running late, inclement weather, having a disability or a crying child come into play. While others simply have the perception that returning a cart isn’t their job.

Some retailers recognize this behavior and due to the man-hours it cost to collect the carts some have now decided to go to a cart “rental” system where you pay for the cart and are reimbursed when it’s returned. For instance Aldi supermarket will now charge you a .25 cents deposit for your grocery cart when you enter the store and you can collect your quarter back once it’s returned.

Walmart is also working on a self-driving shopping cart that is controlled by an app to help increase the consumers shopping experience. These carts will house a navigational system that could literally steer you toward the exact items on your list and conveniently past some of their high margin sales items.

These self-navigating shopping carts can also be programed to return itself back inside the store one day and eliminate the hazard of abandon or runaway carts.

But until then the moral to this story is that we as consumers should all try to look out for one another and safely return your carts to the provided cart corrals.

Be Safe My Friend!

Keven Moore works in risk management services and is an expert witness. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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