MASON CITY | A disabled Garner man is suing Mills Fleet Farm and a manager at its Mason City store after he says he was denied use of an electric wheelchair.
The civil lawsuit, which was filed in Cerro Gordo County District Court last week, claims Shane Zahn, 53, an amputee, had to walk on his hands and knees to reach his vehicle after leaving the store.
Fleet Farm officials said Monday some details in the suit "surprised" them and they are seeking legal counsel for the case.
Zahn, whose right leg is amputated below the knee, along with most of his left foot, used the store's electric wheelchair for shopping in the store, as well as transport to and from his vehicle, the lawsuit says.
The person who was with Zahn or a store employee would bring the wheelchair to the parking lot and back to the store, according to the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Zahn said manager Matt Albertson denied him access to use the wheelchair outside of the store.
Zahn posted a Facebook video of himself that day leaving the store on his knees. The video has been viewed more than 13.8 million times, and been shared by more than 153,000 people.
Zahn said he returned the items he purchased that day.
"Just trying to make people aware of how Fleet Farm treats handicapped customers," he said in a post on his Facebook page.
Peter Riley, Zahn's attorney, told the Globe Gazette Monday Zahn and he decided to take legal action because Fleet Farm's decision was discriminatory.
Some social media users pointed out signs are posted outside the store, stating electric wheelchairs cannot be taken outside. However, Riley said Zahn had used the wheelchair in the parking lot before.
"In the past, they had allowed (Zahn) to do that," said Riley, who is based in Cedar Rapids. "And they obviously were not following whatever their posted protocol was."
Frank Steeves, executive vice president for Fleet Farm, said by phone Monday store employees offered Zahn a non-motorized wheelchair to use in the parking lot, but he refused it.
Steeves said the policy of prohibiting the electric wheelchairs from outside use is for customers' safety. He added he and Mason City store employees were unaware of Zahn using the electric wheelchair in the parking lot.
"I was surprised to read that he had been taking it out of the store regularly," Steeves said. "I would bet our store employees would be surprised to read that, too."
He added that Fleet Farm is currently in the process of searching and hiring a law firm for the case.
Mills Fleet Farm CEO Wayne Sales issued an apology to Zahn in a public statement in April.
"While use of carts in the parking lot with the uneven terrain can pose a hazard, we feel that in this instance our team member made the wrong decision," Sales said in the statement. "We apologize to the customer and to everyone who may be affected."
Sales said the company "did not live up to the values or the service our customers have come to expect from us."
"We should have gone the extra mile and helped the customer use the cart to return to his vehicle after shopping," he said, noting the company wanted to "make things right" for Zahn.
Riley said Zahn's reason for suing Fleet Farm is more than just a money grab.
"He felt that this is something where they really need to rectify what their procedures are," he said. "He’s interested in what they say they will do going go forward to alleviate these issues."
Zahn is seeking a jury trial for the "amount sufficient to compensate him for his injuries," the lawsuit states. The amount of money Zahn is seeking hasn't been disclosed.