By Anna Gustafson
City Councilmen James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) will soon appeal to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration to push forward a bill to prevent a repeat of last year’s death of a Jamaica man who was working at a Long Island Wal-Mart when he was trampled to death by bargain hunters on Black Friday.
The appeal comes after a public hearing chaired by Comrie last week during which Andrew Eiler, the director of legislative affairs for the city Department of Consumer Affairs, said the DCA did not agree with the bill. This effectively meant Gennaro, who sponsored the bill, and Comrie, who chaired the hearing held by the Council Consumer Affairs Committee, would have to rework the bill’s language and receive the green light from the Bloomberg administration before being able to bring the legislation to the Council for a vote.
“Every November, on the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers dash through stores throughout the city to find the best bargains heading into the holiday season,” Gennaro said. “These Black Friday sales generate billions of dollars for the city’s retail businesses, but the anxious, competitive nature of these door buster sales creates unsafe situations for both the patrons and employees when careful safety measures are not implemented.”
Gennaro crafted the legislation, which would require retail stores to apply for a license at the DCA at least 60 days prior to a door buster sale by submitting a detailed crowd control plan, in response to the death of Jdimytai Damour, a Jamaica resident and employee at the Valley Stream, L.I., Wal-Mart.He was crushed to death after a throng of early-morning shoppers knocked him down and stepped on him as they rushed into the store at 5 a.m. to take advantage of Black Friday sales.
Eiler said while officials at the DCA “appreciate the purpose of this bill,” the legislation does not take into account that small businesses do not plan such sales as far in advance as 60 days.
He further argued the department may not have the needed to staff to “effectively evaluate whether any proposed plan would be adequate to ensure the safety of shoppers” and that estimates of the number of people attending the sale may be wrong, “rendering the plan inoperative.”
Eiler said there could be unintended legal disadvantages for individuals injured in a door buster sale because store owners could possibly argue that “the presence of a license absolved the store owner from legal responsibility for any injuries in civil actions against retailers who followed an approved plan that proved to be inadequate for the actual sale.”
Gennaro and Comrie disagreed with Eiler’s statements, saying it was crucial to try to anticipate massive crowds that could pose dangerous to customers and store employees. Comrie agreed with Eiler that the department does not have the manpower to be the lead agency regarding the permits, but he said they never intended for DCA to be the sole group involved in the process.
“We wanted businesses to go to them to apply for a crowd permit and then have other agencies look at the plan,” Comrie said.
The Council members said such agencies could include the Police Department and the city Department of Transportation.
Edward Gersowitz, who is representing the Damour family in their lawsuit against Wal-Mart, supported the bill at the hearing.
“These steps are important to ensure that the retail leviathans, such as Wal-Mart, are vigilant to protect those persons who are invited onto their premises for the purpose of profit,” he said. “Unfortunately, greed and a lack of concern for the public welfare demonstrated by the corporate giants too often accompanies the holiday shopping season. This legislation will compel retailers to consider the safety of their customers first, instead of only their bottom line.”
Nassau County police have said the store did not have enough security personnel on site to deal with the 2,000 people waiting to enter the store. Wal-Mart officials said they had prepared for the sizable crowds with plenty of security.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.