Grocery store parking lots and runaway carts

It seems that every grocery store has a sign by their outside cart bay saying something to the effect of “We are not responsible for any damage caused by run away shopping carts.” My question:

  1. Are they responsible without the sign?
  2. If so, does the sign carry special significance absolving them of liability?
  3. Can I put a sticker on my forehead that says “I am not liable for anything that I may do” and that be binding on everyone around me?

Not a need answer fast, but I’ve always been curious.

Those kinds of signs are meaningless from a legal standpoint, but stores use them because they do have some positive benefits. A couple of examples:

  1. When customers see a big sign that says “Not responsible for damage caused by carts,” they are more likely to be careful with their own carts, even subconsciously, thus contributing to an orderly parking lot and less risk for everyone.

  2. The store can avoid hassles from people who have suffered minor dents and dings because the vast majority of customers will see the sign and shrug it off, thinking "Oh well, it’s just a small scratch, and besides, it’s not the store’s fault.

It would be great if we could all tape immunity claims to our foreheads, but individuals and businesses can’t absolve themselves from civil liabilities simply by posting a sign.

This doesn’t mean that they ARE responsible for cart damage, but it also doesn’t mean that they AREN’T. Civil liabilities and damages are decided on a case by case basis, taking all sorts of factors into consideration.

Say for instance a parking lot was clogged with carts because a manager had neglected to send an employee out to round them up. Say that having these carts all over the place has created an obstacle course atmosphere, with cars weaving around, parking here and there, not using designated spaces, and in the confusion someone’s grandma gets run over…

You can bet there will be a civil suit, against the driver AND against the store. The court will decide the percentage of fault for each, but the store’s sign will offer them no protection whatsoever.

ALDI solves this problem by charging a quarter deposit on cart usage. No carts are left in the lot. It doesn’t cost people anything.

In the event of a runaway shopping cart say, knocking down a toddler and causing him to hit his head on the pavement and suffer a concussion, when the case goes to court will the store’s defense be weakened by the presence of the sign? “Not only was the cart situation unsafe but you attempted to dodge responsibility by posting fraudulent signs assuring potential victims that they had no legal recourse against you!”

I’ve wondered this myself. When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, there was a Ralph’s supermarket at the corner of Wilshire and Bundy that was located at the top of a small hill and all the cars parked on this sloped lot. As a result, runaway carts were a significant problem because of the hill. An unattended cart, especially if it still had food on it, could gain significant momentum and cause some real damage to cars further down in the lot. I’m not sure if that market is still there, but given the inattentiveness of the average mother with kids who is shopping trying to buckle their kid into their five point NASCAR safety harness before loading their food, it would not surprise me if this occurred several times a week.

Pathmark does that here, too. Now the homeless people don’t return them - they take them somewhere and smash them to get the coins to release. Starting with a complete set of carts at the beginning of January, we’re down to maybe 20% of the carts remaining on the property.

They steal the whole cart for a quarter? Sounds like Pathmark would have done better with one of those wheel-lock systems that immobilizes the cart when it crosses a boundary.

Yup. Right behind the supermarket is the river / bay, with lots of rocks and rotting piers - plenty of places to bash the carts.

Those are marginally workable when the idea is to stop people from going substantial distances. Doesn’t seem to be much of an impediment to dragging them around back and smashing them.

Safeway does this here (a quarter per cart) and the Superstore charges a buck a cart (one loonie). The stores that don’t do this (i.e. Walmart) always have carts everywhere in the parking lots. A quarter or a loonie really does make a difference in getting your carts returned properly.

Wait - Pathmark’s system sounds different from Aldi’s, I think.

The Aldi system has carts chained together outside. Inserting a quarter into a box on a cart handle sucks the quarter into that cart and releases the chain from the stack of carts, and then when you return the cart and pop the chain back in, the quarter is released. So a homeless person could get the quarter out of an ‘abandoned’ cart just by putting it back.

Why would the sign be considered fraudulent?

You’d think so. Unfortunately, enough people abandon the carts with captive quarters closer to the river than to the 3 areas that still have working cart return coin releases. So there’s a large pile of cart carcasses down by the river.

I think some of the homeless live down there, too, so some probably use the carts to bring their “acquisitions” (most people’s trash) down to the river before bashing the handles to release the coins.