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Fifth Circuit Prevents Mother From Suing Walmart Over Daughter's Inhalant-Abuse Death

Walmart. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has refused to allow a mother to sue Walmart after her daughter purchased a large quantity of aerosol dust remover from one location over the course of 27 hours and was later found dead in the parking lot of that store from inhalant abuse.

According to Allen v. Wal-Mart, Karalee Alaine Williams entered a Baytown Walmart store on nine different occasions and purchased at least 60 cans of dust remover over the course of two days in 2016.

During her second visit, Williams soiled herself but proceeded to buy more cans of dust remover, and told the checkout employee that she had had a seizure in the parking lot. On her third visit the following morning, Williams entered the store naked from the waist down. Walmart employees noticed Williams' condition, and gave her a towel and a sundress, and she later purchased more cans of dust remover, the court said.

Williams died from inhaling the dust remover in the Walmart parking lot on April 12, 2016, but her body was not discovered in her car until the following day, according to the decision.

Deleese Allen, Williams’ mother, sued Walmart for premises liability, claiming the retailer acted negligently when it continued to sell Williams dust remover despite her impaired state. But a Southern District of Texas U.S. District Court dismissed Allen’s complaint for failure to state a claim—a decision she appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

In its recent decision, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling dismissing Allen’s claim, reasoning that Walmart did not owe Allen a duty under state law to protect her daughter from abusing the dust remover.

“Neither was it illegal for Wal-Mart to sell Williams dust remover, because she was an adult,” wrote Carl Stewart, chief justice of the Fifth Circuit.

“Because Allen did not plead that there were any issues with the conditions of the premises, and because, as we elaborate below, Wal-Mart did not owe Williams any duty of care regarding her purchase or abuse of dust remover, Wal-Mart cannot be found negligent under a theory of premises liability,” Stewart wrote. “We thus hold that Allen’s negligence claim based on premises liability fails.”

Jeff Steidley, a Houston attorney who represents Allen, did not return a call for comment.

Kyle Giacco, a Houston attorney who represents Walmart, also did not return a call for comment.