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Nordstrom Found Negligent In 2005 Knife Attack

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Two women who were stabbed inside a Maryland shopping mall six years ago have been awarded nearly $1.6 million by a jury who found the Nordstrom department store failed to do enough to prevent the knife attack, lawyers said Monday.

A Montgomery County jury found Nordstrom negligent in the May 25, 2005 attack, which occurred when a woman armed with four knives entered the Westfield Montgomery shopping mall in Bethesda and began randomly attacking shoppers inside the high-end department store. Sarah Paseltiner and Jacqueline Greismann were seriously injured in the attack and later sued Nordstrom.

A jury on Friday awarded the women a total of nearly $1.6 million in medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.

Kenneth Trombly, a lawyer for Paseltiner, said Nordstrom failed to follow its own procedures for emergencies and failed to immediately alert customers of the armed woman and to evacuate them from the store. He said the attacker — identified by authorities as Antoinette Starks, of Greenbelt, Md. — had jumped over the customer service desk and that two employees retreated into back rooms, where one tried to call the operator but apparently didn’t get through.

“Our allegation was that the store had an opportunity and obligation to evacuate and to let the customers know about this danger,” Trombly said.

Paseltiner was stabbed several times in the upper arm and shoulder but was able to return to work — she’s in event planning — and is getting married this spring, Trombly said. Greismann has serious scars, limited motion in her arms and hands, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has been unable to return to work as a librarian at a private school, said her attorney, Paul Bekman.

An off-duty FBI agent broke up the attack and ordered Starks to drop the two butcher knives that she had taped together to form a double-bladed weapon. Two more knives were found in the store where Starks allegedly dropped them.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow said in a written statement Monday that the company believes it did everything possible to protect its customers and that it was pleased the case was over.

“We believe we did everything we could to protect our customers and commend the courage of our employees who responded during what was an extremely volatile situation,” Darrow said. “We’re glad that this matter is now resolved so we can move on and focus on the process of healing.”

Starks, who had just been released from prison at the time of the attacks after serving a sentence for vandalism and who was battling mental health problems, was charged in the stabbings. She was ultimately found not criminally responsible and was placed in a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. Her lawyer, Timothy Fitts, said he had visited her a few years ago for a hearing and was impressed by the progress he felt she had made in her treatment.

“When I went there, she was talking to me like a very cooperative human being,” Fitts said. “It was like night and day.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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