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SEATTLE - A North Bend, Ore., woman has filed a civil lawsuit against two teenage employees at an Albertson's store, claiming they chased her too aggressively out of the parking lot after she allegedly stole groceries, causing her to crash into a tree, The Seattle Times reports.
The plaintiff, 42-year-old Anita Durrett, has already been convicted of vehicular manslaughter as a result of the crash last June, which killed her 9-year-old daughter.
According to police, Durrett left the store without paying for $266.16 worth of groceries, and refused to provide a receipt when confronted in the parking lot by two teenage employees and an assistant manager. Durrett then fled the parking lot in her station wagon, leaving the groceries behind.
The manager ordered the two employees, who had a cellphone, to follow Durrett in one of their cars. They caught up with Durrett at a stoplight and accosted her verbally and physically, according to Durrett's lawyer.
"Anita in her fear of their intentions drove away from the point of confrontation," the lawsuit says.
The employees began chasing her again. Police estimate that both cars were traveling in excess of 90 mph.
Durrett's lawyer said he believes the employees knew that the 9-year-old child was in the front seat. Because of that, their actions were reckless, he said. They should also have used the cellphone to call for help during the chase, he added.
Jeannette Duwe, Albertson's spokeswoman, told the newspaper that the company won't comment in detail on pending litigation. Albertson's has until the end of the month to respond to the suit. "But we believe that our employees did act reasonably," she said.
Washington state law says that store employees have a right to use a "reasonable" amount of force to apprehend and detain suspected shoplifters while on the business premises, according to The Seattle Times. But it offers no specifics on what constitutes reasonable.
Representatives of shopping centers and security companies that patrol supermarkets said they caution employees about confronting shoplifters because of the potential danger and because of the possibility of civil liability.
In one case, in December 1993, Federal Way resident Antonio Jackson stole a pack of cigarettes from a Safeway supermarket and was chased down by several store employees, according to the Seattle Times. One of the store employees put Jackson in a choke hold. Jackson died soon afterward.
Jackson's family later sued and won an out-of-court settlement.