$671,000 wrongful death jury verdict in Alameda County. Our client v. Target Stores, Inc. and Academy Broadway, Inc.
Plaintiff and his wife decided to go camping for Memorial Day in the Hope Valley just to the south of Lake Tahoe. It was the couple's anniversary so as a gift they purchased a new canvas cabin tent from Target Stores in Dublin, California. The tent was made in China but it was designed, assembled and marketed by a Smithtown, New York company named Academy Broadway Inc.
Plaintiff set up the tent next to a quiet stream and used the metal stakes that came with the tent to anchor it. There were approximately 14 stakes and they were V shaped and 6 inches long. The tent had a floor and a zip up window and door. The tent also came with an attached canopy that was held up by poles and anchored by stakes.
While plaintiff was cooking breakfast beneath the adjacent canopy a strong gust of wind came up and the canopy collapsed. The plaintiff turned around and to his amazement the entire tent was airborne with his wife in it. She had stayed in the tent and had zipped up all the openings to take a sponge bath. She weighed over 150 pounds and the other material in the tent weighed at least another 100 pounds or more. The tent went about 60 feet into the air and then landed on some large Tahoe rocks nearby.
The plaintiff ran to the point of rest and was finally able to access his wife who was unconscious and was bleeding from her ears. He screamed for help and it took more than an hour for the emergency vehicles to arrive to treat her. She was alive when they arrived but she died of a massive head injury shortly after she got to the hospital.
The wind had uprooted all of the tent stakes from the ground and had lifted the tent in the air. Plaintiff argued that the tent was defective in design because its stakes were too short and were of the wrong design. Plaintiff conducted extensive discovery and found that Target's replacement stakes were considerably longer and better shaped to retain the tent. Plaintiff also discovered that the manufacturer had never really "designed" the tent for wind and had no idea how it would perform in windy conditions. Plaintiff retained a New Jersey tensile architect as an expert who testified that the tent was defective.
The defense argued that the tent was not defective and that the wind could not have lifted straight up in the air as plaintiff described. It argued that the number, quality and design of the stakes was adequate. It also argued that a large dust devil uprooted the tent.
The jury held for plaintiff and this is the only such case of its kind in the country. The verdict got the attention of the tent industry and it now realizes that tent designers must consider the effect of wind (e.g. lift) on tent structures. Prior to this case, tensile architects had considered the effect of wind in the design of larger structures like the Hubert Humphrey dome in Minneapolis and the Denver Airport but most tent manufacturers had not.