A Texas jury awarded a $27 million verdict against fast food giant McDonald's after finding that lax security at one of the chain's restaurants contributed to the deaths of two Texas teenagers in 2012.
Blinn College students Denton James Ward, 18, of Flower Mound, and Lauren Bailey Crisp, 19, of Dripping Springs, died in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2012, after stopping with another couple at a McDonald's location in College Station, TX, where police repeatedly had been called to break up fights.
While walking through the McDonald's parking lot near the Texas A&M University campus, Ward and a friend were viciously attacked by a mob. They then were loaded into Ward's SUV by their girlfriends. As they raced toward a nearby hospital, Crisp's friend ran a red light and collided with a pickup truck in a crash that resulted in her death.
Police called more than 20 times
The teens' families claimed McDonald's should have provided better security at the restaurant, where police were called more than 20 times to break up fights in the year leading up to the deaths, according to trial evidence. Despite the location's history of late-night violence, McDonald's never hired any security personnel and never installed security cameras to help protect customers.
"We hope this verdict sends a powerful message to McDonald's and other companies that protecting customers is more important than late-night revenue," says attorney Chris Hamilton of Dallas' Standly Hamilton, LLP, lead trial counsel for the teens' families. "The night these two kids died, this was a dangerous location, and McDonald's knew it. Yet they did nothing to prevent their senseless deaths."
During the six-day trial, witnesses testified that Ward died in the parking lot after being kicked and stomped by 15 to 20 attackers. McDonald's maintained that he died in the car wreck that followed, and that the company wasn't responsible for the teens' safety.
One of the attackers, Marcus Jones, was sentenced to 90 days in jail for assaulting Ward's friend. No other arrests were made.
College Station Police officers testified they regularly were called to the location to break up fights and disperse unsupervised crowds numbering in the hundreds between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on weekends. Despite that testimony, two former managers who were working at the same McDonald's that night testified they were unaware of any problems.
The $27 million verdict was handed down on July 30, 2014 in the 361st District Court of Judge Steve Smith.