Toys "R" Us will be required to release a list of people who have been injured in its store since 2001 to a plaintiff in a St. Clair County personal injury suit, according to an order from the Fifth District Appellate Court.
The store also must pay $1,000 and plaintiff's attorney fees as sanctioned by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto in a suit filed by Lela Willeford in 2003.
Justice Melissa Chapman held that Toys "R" Us, which appealed Cueto's sanctions and refusal to grant a protective order, did not demonstrate the need for a protective order and did not act in good faith related to discovery.
"...[D]efendants' tactics led to five years of litigation over whether they were required to provide the names and contact information of people who might have information relevant to the plaintiff's case," Chapman wrote. "This simply does not warrant a finding that they acted in good faith to challenge a discovery ruling."
The store had been asked to provide multiple lists to Willeford, who claims she was injured on Dec. 15, 2001, after an easel on one of the store's shelves fell on her.
In addition to the names, addresses and phone numbers of any parties that had filed similar complaints prior to Willeford's, the store is now required to provide a list of people who had been hurt after Willeford's incident.
Without a protective order, the store did not want to supply a list of incidents after Willeford's, it stated in a Jan. 31, 2006, supplemental briefing.
The protective order would have granted only Willeford and her counsel access to the documents.
According to court records, Karen McCann, a manager in the store's risk management department, claimed that providing the information "presents a serious risk that the people involved in those incidents will be contacted by Ms. Willeford's counsel, or any other third party with whom Ms. Willeford and her counsel choose to share the list."
The store argued that without such an order, it was a "blueprint for somebody to go out and make phone calls and start recruiting people as plaintiffs."
It also claimed Willeford wanted to find potential class members so she could file a class action lawsuit.
On March 12, 2007, Cueto found that the documents should not be protected and ordered Toys "R" Us to pay Willeford $1,000, plus attorneys' fees.
He found the store did not provide a good reason or demonstrate a need for a protective order and that its only potential harm was that Willeford could put together a class action lawsuit.
Furthermore, Cueto found the class action lawsuit was only speculative and that Willeford claimed she wanted the information just to determine whether a pattern of injuries existed.
In the suit's beginning stages, the store did not want to provide a list of any claims, saying it was "overly broad and unduly burdensome in its scope" and asked for "information that is irrelevant and immaterial to the instant action," according to the appellate court's finding.
Toys "R" Us had been ordered to release the documents within 30 days of Cueto's Oct. 27, 2003, order.
The company still did not want to provide the list without first obtaining a protective order from the court, which would have granted only Willeford and certain other parties access to the documents.
"They argued, for the first time, that the order was 'necessary to prevent the use and disclosure by parties or entities unrelated to this litigation of data, documents and information produced by defendants," Chapman wrote.
When Toys "R" Us first asked for a protective order on March 19, 2004, its motion was denied for three reasons.
First, the motion was "unverified, unsubstantiated and conclusory" and did not identify the documents it sought to protect, the court found.
Second, the protective order did not explain how the store could be harmed.
Third, Toys "R" Us failed "to demonstrate 'good cause,'" the order states.
The store asked the court to review its findings on July 25, 2005, saying a protective order was necessary to protect the names of people involved in such incidents. It also claimed the documents were not relevant to show that a dangerous condition existed in the store.
Employee incidents, which the store was also asked to provide, were not relevant because employees spent more time in the store than customers and had a greater risk of injury, the store claimed.
On Dec. 13, 2005, Toys "R" Us provided Willeford with a list of incidents prior to 1996 and up to her accident, the order states.
The court did enter a narrow protective order July 19, 2006, granting only Willeford and her counsel access to worker's comps claims against the company.
That, however, still left incidents after Willeford's open and without a protective order.
And because of Chapman's ruling, the company will be forced to reveal the documents now.