McDonald’s Corp. lost a $27 million jury verdict in Texas over a claim that lax security at one of its restaurants led to the deaths of two teenagers, an award litigators say is unlikely to survive appeal.
The victims in the case were Denton James Ward, 18, who was beaten to death by a mob at a McDonald’s in February 2012, and his girlfriend, Lauren Bailey Crisp, 19, who died in a traffic accident in a futile attempt to bring Ward to a hospital.
The families of both teens sued McDonald’s, claiming the restaurant chain didn’t protect patrons at its College Station, Texas, location even though local police had been repeatedly called to break up fights there. A Bryan, Texas, state court jury awarded the Ward family $16 million and the Crisp family $11 million.
The full jury verdict is unlikely to withstand appeals, given the conservative nature of the county where the incident happened and Texas appellate courts, said Houston attorney David Berg, who isn’t involved in the case.
“The jury turned into a lynch mob,” said Berg, the author of “The Trial Lawyer — What it Takes To Win.” “Clearly they were very angry. But I don’t think the families will be able to hold onto all of that verdict,” he said in a phone interview.
The award to the Crisp family is particularly vulnerable because she died when the driver of the vehicle trying to take Ward to a hospital ran a red light, he said.
McDonald’s will appeal, Terri Hickey, a spokeswoman for the Oak Brook, Ill., company, said in an e-mailed statement. “We respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict.”
The case marks the second legal setback in two days for McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain by revenue. The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel determined yesterday that McDonald’s has joint responsibility with restaurant owners for the treatment of employees, a decision that could disrupt the fast-food franchise system and make it easier for workers to unionize.
The restaurant chain also is dealing with the aftermath of a health scare in China. A McDonald’s meat supplier in Shanghai recalled products after a local TV station showed workers repackaging chicken and beef to change its sell-by dates.
“The verdict should stand up on appeal,” Chris Hamilton, an attorney for the Crisp and Ward families, said in an interview.
“This was a dangerous location, and McDonald’s knew it,” he said. “Yet they did nothing to prevent their senseless deaths.”
The restaurant where the attack occurred had repeatedly drawn police attention for large unruly crowds and fighting during late-night hours, according to a plaintiffs’ document summarizing depositions and police reports.
“This restaurant had a horrible history” with police responding more than 200 times to complaints over the previous three years, Hamilton said. Local police responded so often to fights at the restaurant that they viewed the site as a “drain on their resources,” he said.
The families never asked for punitive damages, Hamilton said.
The case is Crisp v. The McDonald’s Corp., 12-cv-003034, District Court, Brazos County, Texas (Bryan).