“You know what the word `IKEA’ really means when translated from Swedish?” asked comedian Jay Leno recently.
The answer: “Cheap particle board.”
Though the audience laughed, it is likely that few IKEA personnel are laughing over a recent jury hit that the retailer just took in the Washington D.C. area.
A Fairfax County (VA) woman was just awarded $3.2 million in damages for injuries she suffered in 2006 when a 350-lb. stack of countertops fell on her in one of IKEA’s Woodbridge, VA stores. The plaintiff, Xiaolie Zeng, suffered four fractures of her pelvis and alleged permanent injuries.
Fairfax County, VA -- which happens to be my home – is not known for having excessively liberal juries. From a defendant’s point of view, it is considered a fairly favorable jurisdiction. If you have a choice locally to be a defendant in Washington D.C. or Fairfax County, you definitely want your case in Fairfax County. This is no Robin Hood, “rob the rich to pay the poor” area.
It sounds as though liability here was pretty clear. The customer had been looking for a table, but did not find one that she liked Near the Exit, she stopped at the “As Is” section of leftover or bargain items but did not touch any of them. A stack of four particle-board counter tops and inside door collapsed on Ms. Zeng.
Given the clear liability, it is hard to see why IKEA did not settle the case and let it go to a jury. The article says the special damages were about $150,000. We do not know the plaintiff’s pretrial demand. Perhaps it was so high that IKEA felt that, even with a finding of liability, it stood a good chance of doing better than paying the demand.
That demand may be looking better now.