Law360 (August 17, 2020, 7:21 PM EDT) -- A Kansas City federal jury has hit Walmart with a $450,000 verdict in the Western District of Missouri's second civil jury trial of the coronavirus pandemic, finding Walmart fully responsible for a head injury suffered by a man entering one of its stores.
After deliberating for 90 minutes following three days of trial, the jury returned on Thursday with a verdict in favor of Gregory Stillman, finding Wal-Mart Stores East I LP 100% at fault for Stillman's injury.
Stillman was injured entering the Raytown, Missouri, Walmart Supercenter's garden center when a large commercial overhead door closed without warning, hitting him in the head and leaving him with a concussion and lacerations, according to his complaint.
Stillman attorney Jeffrey Blackwood of Montee Law Firm PC told Law360 on Monday that Stillman and his legal team "were very pleased with the verdict overall and thought the jury absolutely listened to Mr. Stillman and the evidence in reaching their verdict."
As for heading back to trial during a pandemic, Blackwood noted that the court took a variety of preventative safety measures, such as distancing the jury throughout the gallery in the courtroom and requiring all people in the courtroom to wear masks except for testifying witnesses, who were protected by Plexiglass shield.
Blackwood said these measures — which have been seen frequently in courts that have headed back to trial in recent weeks — "definitely made it a different experience."
"The COVID requirements and the way they set it up it just made communication in general more challenging," he said. "That was a challenge understanding people can't see your face, it was really about the direct talking type of communication."
Blackwood said that during his opening statement he had to try out a different mask, because the first one he selected made his voice too quiet.
"We learned lip movement and facial expressions are used heavily in communication to understand one another," he added. "You had to constantly be aware of the microphone and the amplification of the courtroom."
Blackwood commended the court for restarting jury trials, however, saying he and his client saw it as a clear positive that they could get into court and present their case.
"You tend to get used to it and focus on the evidence in the trial itself," he said. "It's still a full federal trial."
An attorney for Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the trial on Monday, nor did U.S. District Judge Greg Kays, who presided over the trial
Stillman's case was the second civil case to head to trial in Missouri's Western District since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, following a personal injury trial that end in a $10,000 verdict last month. A criminal case also went to trial in July but ended in a plea deal before a verdict could be reached, and another criminal trial began on Monday in the district's Springfield courthouse, according to court deputy of operations Laura Bax.
Earlier this month in another Kansas City federal court — on the other side of the state line — the District of Kansas' first jury trial since the pandemic began also ended with a personal injury verdict against Walmart.
On Aug. 4, a seven-person Kansas City jury delivered a verdict in favor of Sandy Skeels after a two-day trial on her claim that had she injured her finger trying to separate a pair of jammed shopping carts. The jury awarded Skeels $112,000 in noneconomic damages and $8,000 in medical expenses, but found that she was 40% to blame for her injury, so under Kansas law her award is reduced by that amount, resulting in a $72,000 verdict against Walmart Inc.
That trial also took place with the participants wearing masks and practicing social distancing, the presiding judge and participating attorneys told Law360 afterward.
Stillman is represented by Amanda Blackwood, Jeffrey Blackwood and James Montee of Montee Law Firm PC.
Walmart is represented by Lindsay Windham and M. Jared Marsh of Halbrook Wood PC.
The case is Stillman v. Walmart, case number 4:19-cv-00222, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
--Editing by Haylee Pearl.
Update: This story has been updated to include the case number.
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