LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Thursday the state will be suing Family Dollar stores after inspection reports showed several instances of rat infestations months before the chain issued a recall.
"Family Dollar has had knowledge of this dangerous and massive rodent infestation for over two years, yet they continued to sell and profit from potentially contaminated goods," Rutledge said in the statement.
The lawsuit claims that Family Dollar knew about the rodent infestation at its West Memphis distribution center for years but allowed the unsafe products to be sold at hundreds of their stories in Arkansas and five other states.
"Their total disregard for safety endangered Arkansas consumers and forced hundreds of employees to work in unsafe conditions at the West Memphis Distribution Center."
Rutledge is seeking punitive damages, restitution, and civil penalties through the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Act, pointing out that many rural Arkansas communities depend on discount stores like Family Dollar. "Consumers lost money and could have lost their lives," the statement said.
On Friday, Feb. 18, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that more than 1,000 rodents were found inside a Family Dollar distribution facility in Arkansas.
The chain issued a voluntary recall that impacted over 400 stores in the South, including 85 Arkansas stores.
An inspection report from March 3, 2021 states the facility violated Code 11.35(c) after "significant rodent activity" was observed in the aisles of the store where human and pet food was located.
The report also stated that management of the Family Dollar was "aware of the current rodent issues at the facility" and that the "issue has been ongoing for approximately 60 days," putting the initial onset of the infestation near the beginning of January 2021.
Another inspection in September 2021 of the Family Dollar distribution center noted there had been "live rodents in a box of Pringles."
Three months later, in December, a complaint was filed that said an employee saw three rats on his desk at a distribution center in West Memphis.
In a statement, the FDA said it is "urging caution around any items purchased since Jan. 1, 2021, at Family Dollar stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, or Tennessee."
After fumigating the facility, more than 1,100 dead rodents were recovered, officials said.
Rutledge filed the lawsuit in the Pulaski County Circuit Court. Each violation is subject to a fine of up to $10,000.