Or was it a frightened baby nutria scrambling to get away from the shopper?
Or did it exist at all?
That will decided at trial, along with other issues involved in the suit stemming from the October 2008 incident.
In her deposition, Rebecca White describes Norman as “this big rat-looking thing with some hair all sticking out. He was standing there and he turned towards me and he looked at me” as she approached the cola section to get a drink.
“And when he looked at me, all I could see was his hair sticking up on his back and he was like greasy, and all I could remember is the big ugly face with some big orange teeth.
“And then he jumped down and it looked like he was coming to attack me,” she said.
Subsequent to that, after taking other depositions, Walmart amended its response to the suit, saying in that December 2010 action that the accident, if it happened, was partly White’s fault for “over-reacting to the presence of a baby nutria, a frightened and non-aggressive animal in attempting to run away from the frightened baby nutria, when the nutria was in retreat.”
The company also amended its defense, saying if the incident happened the fault lies with “all known and unknown third parties for whom it is not responsible, including any and all other companies hired to find and/or locate the nutria but failed to do so.”
Trial of the case was schedule for March but delayed to give the defense time to complete its discovery.
At the time, according to subpoena service records, the defense was still trying to talk to one former Walmart employee. A hearing for contempt of court against that person was scheduled for June, then his deposition was scheduled for the 14th of this month.
Among those deposed to this point is an employee who allegedly had a run-in with a nutria in the store prior to White’s.
After White’s deposition, Walmart’s attorneys attempted to have excluded from trial any reference to the alleged naming of the nutria by Walmart employees.
They argued that White could not tell them who referred to the nutria as “Norman.”
“I was kind of dizzy, like it was far away. I guess it was one of the Walmart employees that said ‘I see somebody encountered Norman’ is what I heard him say ... after I seen the nutria rat I blanked out. I’m telling you, I don’t know nothing,” she said.
The defense argued that since White could not be specific about who allegedly referred the nutria by name that that should not allowed at trial. Judge J.D. Trahan ruled otherwise, so Norman it is.
White and her husband Randal alleged she incurred pain, suffering and mental anguish from the incident and claims negligence by the company and its employees.
In her deposition, White said she had been “catching” anxiety attacks more often in the wake of the incident and the media attention attached to it.
She said she had been treated for the condition prior to the incident, as well as for continuing pain from an accident several years ago. She said she had taken a Lortab and a Xanex before going shopping on the evening in question.
The incident gained international media attention after being first reported by The Abbeville Meridional and vermiliontoday.com.
That attention prompted the defense to ask Trahan to prohibit any statements by the plaintiff attorney that “appeal to passion or prejudices in trial of this matter.”
The case “has garnered local and national media attention. It appears this case will continue to receive media attention, whether at the insistence of the plaintiffs’ counsel or otherwise.
“While reporting of allegations of petition from public record cannot be stopped, an attempt by an attorney to influence potential jury pool through the media is prohibited (by rules of the court), the defense contended.
Trahan denied the motion as well as one for limited partial judgment.
White’s counsel is Anthony Fontana; Walmart is represented by Lindsay DeBlois and Philip A. Fontenot.