A woman alleges in a lawsuit that Home Depot and two other companies are responsible for the inadequate design of the company’s Joplin store, which collapsed and killed her husband and two children during the 2011 tornado.
Edie Howard Housel says in the suit, filed originally in Jasper County, Mo., state court and transferred to federal court in June, that the building’s design and construction were inadequate, given its location in a high-risk tornado area.
Housel’s husband and children “were injured and killed as a result of the inadequate and negligent construction of the Home Depot building they entered,” the suit says.
Home Depot U.S.A., HD Development of Maryland Inc. and CASCO Diversified Corporation have denied the allegations. The EF5 tornado that destroyed the store and much of downtown Joplin was an “act of God,” Home Depot’s lawyers wrote in the company’s response. Such events prohibit any liability on the companies, the lawyers argued.
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A month after the storm, stories in The Kansas City Star raised questions about the store’s “tilt-up wall” design, which is common in the construction of big-box stores, warehouses and schools across the country.
Such structures are erected with concrete walls that are poured on site and lifted into place with cranes. The walls are held upright by critical connections to a relatively lightweight roof system.
In high winds, the roof can become compromised and the wall panels can fall like dominoes, engineers told the newspaper.
According to the suit, Russell Howard and his children, Harli, 5, and Hayze, 19 months old, sought refuge in the store when tornado sirens sounded about 5:17 p.m., May 22, 2011.
An employee directed them to a training room in the back of the building, “but before they could reach the area, the large unsupported wall panels collapsed on top of them,” the suit says.