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Friday, October 7, 2011

Gruesome 2006 Hudson accident leads to negligence suit

CONCORD – A Massachusetts woman who suffered a gruesome hand injury while Christmas shopping for underprivileged kids at the Walmart in Hudson is suing the company for negligence.

Kathleen Werst, of Acton, Mass., was shopping with some friends on Dec. 1, 2006, in the Lowell Road store, looking for gifts for needy children in her community, when she spotted an item on her list on an upper shelf, according to documents filed at U.S. District Court in Concord.

She climbed about 18 inches off the floor and still couldn’t reach the item. But when she tried to jump back down, one of her rings caught on the metal shelving unit. The resulting downward force “stripped the skin and muscle” from her ring finger down to the bone. The injury is known as “degloving,” according to court documents.

Werst has undergone six surgeries over three years. Eventually, her ring finger was amputated and her pinkie finger was moved to that spot. But only the thumb and index finger on her left hand have any feeling, according to court documents.

Werst is suing Walmart, claiming the company was negligent by failing to exercise reasonable maintenance of the store and by allowing “unreasonably hazardous conditions” to exist, among other allegations, according to court documents.

Werst has demanded a jury trial and is requesting a non-specific monetary judgment for the resulting loss of employment income and enjoyment of life, according to court documents.

Meanwhile, Walmart moved for summary judgment against Werst, which was denied in a court ruling issued this week.

The company said Werst’s injuries were a result of nothing but her own actions. The rack of shelves on which she climbed were marked “Do not climb on the steel bins/racks,” the company said in court documents.

In his ruling, Judge Steven McAuliffe said the case is “tiptoeing along the dividing line between viable and meritless claims” because of a lack of evidence Werst has provided that Walmart had actual knowledge of the danger the shelves presented.

He did, however, deny the summary judgment motion, ruling any liability the company may have is a matter of “factual issues” that a trial will have to iron out, according to court documents.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).