Distraction action

The Madison County Record Jun. 27, 2009, 4:26am

Claudia Jean Pryor isn't the first off-balance opportunist we've seen hoping to squeeze a payday out of a moment of gracelessness.

But she's the first plaintiff we've encountered with the moxie to "accuse" a retailer of being too compelling with their marketing.

As reported in last week's Record, Ms. Pryor and her husband, Jerry, are suing Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, blaming the restaurant for her "left wrist injury" after she took a tumble in the waiting area of the Caseyville restaurant. She apparently was "distracted" by the enticing merchandise offered by its in-store displays.

"The Pryors claim Cracker Barrel.. failed to keep the premises safe and placed various items for sale to distract its customers," reads their gripe, filed in St. Clair County Court on June 10.

Isn't capturing the customer's attention the whole point of a retail merchandise display? According to the rationale of the Pryors and their lawyer, Robert W. Schmieder of Pratt & Tobin in East Alton, there should be limits on how enticing these displays can be.

Entice away, American retailers! But be careful not to entice too much, lest you cause your customers to injure themselves.

Some plaintiff's lawyers would like our courts to force such a legal grey area upon our stores and restaurants. Then they could stalk store aisles and waiting areas hunting for lawsuit-worthy examples of too much excellence.

We can imagine the television ads now: "Have you ever been maliciously distracted by items for sale? Has your attention ever been seized by a crafty marketer? Call now for a free consultation!"

The Pryors lawsuit asks for more than $200,000, compensation that will make the family whole for her medical expenses and Mr. Pryor's "loss of consortium." That's rich--but it is a pittance compared to what their success could cost our retail economy.

This case should fall flat.

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