Jury orders Nordstrom to pay $1.6 million to Bethesda stabbing victims

April 18, 2011

A Montgomery County jury ordered Nordstrom to pay nearly $1.6 million to two women stabbed inside its Bethesda store six years ago, concluding that the retailer did not adequately warn shoppers that a woman armed with four butcher knives was on the loose, attorneys said Monday.

In a separate matter linked to the attacks, a judge recently recommended that the assailant, Antoinette Starks, 54, be released from a state psychiatric hospital, according to court records. She was declared not criminally responsible after the incident and has been compliant with her treatment, has taken medications daily and has displayed a “very good” work ethic inside Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, the judge concluded.

Starks, armed with knives, entered Nordstrom at Westfield Montgomery mall on May 25, 2005, and chased shoppers. She was stopped by an off-duty FBI agent, who pulled out his service weapon. Starks had been released from prison the previous day after serving 16 months for malicious destruction of property.

Two victims, each stabbed multiple times, survived and sued Nordstrom in 2008. Their attorneys argued that at least eight minutes passed from the time Starks entered the store to the time of the stabbings and that Nordstrom did not do enough to warn shoppers or evacuate the store.

The jury returned its verdict Friday, awarding $345,500 to Sarah Paseltiner and $1.25 million to Jacqueline Greismann.

“Hopefully, Nordstrom and other stores will take their internal safety procedures more seriously,” said Kenneth Trombly, Paseltiner’s attorney.

Griesmann’s attorney, Paul Bekman, added that Nordstrom had an emergency manual, but he said that employees were not adequately trained to follow it.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow said that the company “did everything we could to protect our customers” during the incident and that it “will continue to focus on emergency response and awareness each day.”

Starks, who has paranoid schizophrenia, remains at Perkins. According to a Nov. 29 report from Administrative Law Judge Una M. Perez, Starks has been free of symptoms of her mental disorder since at least May 2007. Citing a doctor’s opinion, Perez recommended that Starks be released to a group home, take medications as prescribed, not possess weapons and abide by other conditions.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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