Wal-Mart Blamed For Suicide

by on December 21st, 2004

(Denton, Texas) Shayla Stewart was a manic-depressive and schizophrenic who purchased her prescribed anti-psychotic medication from Wal-Mart. She also purchased a shotgun from Wal-Mart which she used to kill herself. Consequently, Shayla’s mother, Lavern Bracy, is suing Wal-Mart, claiming the company knew she was mentally ill and, therefore, shouldn’t have sold her a shotgun. A judgment of $25 million is being sought.

On the surface, the lawsuit appears quite weak since mental health records are confidential by law so the gun department was restricted from seeing any of the data from the pharmacy. Additionally, two different Wal-Mart stores were involved so there’s an apparent underlying assumption in the lawsuit that all company data is available to all stores on a timely basis. That’s an erroneous expectation.

As a result, I don’t see how Wal-Mart can be judged liable in the suicide of Shayla Stewart. Nonetheless, the lawsuit does raise the significant issue of the effectiveness of background checks that do not include mental health records. I’m sure that law enforcement groups grimace at their inability to complete comprehensive background investigations without accessing confidential medical records.

Ultimately, lawmakers and the judiciary will have to address the dilemma. In the meantime, there’s no assurance that crazy people are prevented from buying guns. And, on the other side of the controversy, evidence is lacking to contend that all people with mental problems are irresponsible with guns.

Lastly, one other aspect of the Wal-Mart case is worthy of mention. If someone wants to commit suicide, it will occur despite the ease or difficulty of the means to do so. A gun is quick and easy, but Wal-Mart also sells knives, rope, and rat poison. This means there’s a likelihood that the company would have been sued even if Shayla was unable to buy the shotgun.

Companion post at Interested-Participant.

Mike Pechar