Archived Story

Walmart sued over rogue nutria

Published 12:00am Friday, May 8, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A south Louisiana woman claims in a lawsuit that a nutria known as Norman ran at her in her local Walmart, scaring her into a panic attack and a foot injury that required surgery.

Employees at the Walmart in Abbeville not only knew a wild animal was at large in the store, but had given it a pet name and negligently failed to warn people about it, Rebecca T. White and her husband, Randal, allege in a state court lawsuit.

Nutria are rodents with bright orange buck teeth. Weighing up to 18 pounds, they look like small beavers with rat-like tails. Would-be fur farmers in 22 states imported large numbers in the 1930s and ’40s, then let them go when they proved unprofitable. They proliferated in south Louisiana, where many residents call them nutria-rats or neutral-rats.

Walmart Stores Inc. had little comment about the lawsuit filed April 22 in state district court in Abbeville, about 130 miles west of New Orleans.

‘‘A safe, clean and friendly shopping environment for customers is always our goal. We haven’t been served with a lawsuit, but we are looking into the matter,’’ spokeswoman Michelle Bradford said Thursday.

It isn’t clear what happened to the animal. The parish nuisance animal control officer, Duane Riebel, said he has never been called on to get rid of nutria.

According to the lawsuit, Rebecca White had a full shopping cart when ‘‘suddenly and without warning a large wild nutria came from behind the Coke rack and ran straight towards’’ her on Oct. 11.

Fearing for her safety, she ‘‘pulled her shopping cart towards her to protect her from the large vicious looking rat,’’ the suit continued.

The cart ran over her left foot, breaking two bones, the Whites’ lawyer, Anthony Fontana, said Thursday. He said she underwent surgery in late February for broken bones and damaged nerves.

Wal-Mart workers ‘‘came running’’ in October but made light of the incident, ‘‘telling petitioner that they could see that she had an encounter with ’Norman,’ a name the employees had given to the rat,’’ the lawsuit alleged.

Fontana said Thursday that White suffers from panic attacks.

‘‘She got to the checkout counter,’’ Fontana said. ‘‘That’s the last thing she remembers. She passed out and they had to take her to the hospital in an ambulance.’’

She had had prior surgery on her back, which was re-injured when she fell, Fontana said. ‘‘They’re monitoring that as to whether she’ll need any type of treatment.’’

She is asking for compensation for pain, suffering, mental anguish, fear, disabling injuries, and medical expenses. The surgery bills aren’t yet in, Fontana said, but other medical bills totaled $1,945.93.