New Lawsuit May Threaten Overnight Parking At Walmart

New Lawsuit May Threaten Overnight Parking At Walmart

It is not unusual to drive past a Walmart parking lot and see an RV or two dotted throughout its expansive parking lot, especially at night. Walmart parking lots have long been a familiar stomping ground for recreational vehicle enthusiasts and weary drivers alike who seek a few moments of rest before setting out once again. However, a recent lawsuit may threaten the use of Walmart parking lots as an overnight haven, according to information provided by a recent report from Business Insider

Essie McKenzie, then a mother of two, is attempting to sue Walmart following events leading to her minivan being set ablaze, resulting in the death of her 6-year-old daughter and the severe injury of her eldest daughter. The latter was only 9 years old at the time. These terrible events occurred in the early morning hours of August 6th, 2019, in the parking lot of a Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota. 

It is reported that the fire occurred when a man and woman hailing from California moved their 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan to a location next to McKenzie's 2014 Caravan. The Californian couple had camped in that same Walmart parking lot the previous night. McKenzie was in the store shopping at the time of the incident, leaving her two daughters sleeping inside the vehicle. 

The lawsuit claims the Californian man cooked breakfast that morning using a camping stove on the pavement. Afterward, the man stored the stove in the rear of his 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan "without waiting for it to cool and tossed some bedding on top of the cook stove." The man then proceeded to move his vehicle to a spot near McKenzies own and entered the store. 

As the man was shopping inside the Walmart, his van caught fire from the still hot camping stove. The roaring flames quickly spread to other nearby vehicles, including McKenzies with her two daughters still inside. According to a recent report from The Miami Herald's Mitchell Willetts, the Californian man was sentenced to 120 days of jail time in 2020. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S District Court in Minnesota last month, seeking at least $75,000 and accusing Walmart of neglecting to protect and monitor guests residing in the parking lot overnight. 

A Walmart spokesperson has responded to the situation with a statement to Business Insider, stating, "Our sympathies remain with the friends and family impacted by this tragic event three years ago. We plan to defend the company and will respond in Court to the Complaint as appropriate." 

Walmart has a long history of welcoming RV-based customers and drivers who choose to spend the night in their parking lots. According to an FAQ page on the company's website, "While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers." The FAQ page continues, stating, "Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws." 

The welcoming attitude towards RVers and overnight parking has made the company wildly popular with RV lifestyle enthusiasts. However, that attitude may be changing swiftly as the number of Walmart stores that extend overnight RV stays in their parking lots has dropped significantly from 78% to nearly 58% in 2020, according to a report from CNN.

Aug 18th 2022 Corey Johnson

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