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JUDGE IN GEL CANDY CASE AWARDS $50M A San Mateo Superior Court judge Friday awarded $50 million to the parents of a 2-year-old Massachusetts boy who choked to death on a piece of gel candy. Judge Mark Forcum entered default judgments against Taiwan-based Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co. Ltd. — $25 million to each parent of Jeffrey Jing — after company executives refused to sit for depositions in the wrongful death and product liability suit and failed to show up for trial. “Obviously this does nothing to ease the pain of the family,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Danko of San Mateo’s O’Reilly, Collins, & Danko. But Danko said the award will help get word out about the candy, which was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2001 as a choking hazard. Gary Soter of Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Pearson in Tarzana originally represented Sheng Hsiang in the suit, but withdrew as counsel in February. Sheng Hsiang was representing itself and was filing documents from Taiwan, Danko said. The $50 million judgment comes a month after a Santa Clara County Superior Court jury awarded $16.7 million to the family of 12-year Michelle Enrile, who choked on the same candy and died in a coma two years later. “I believe [Sheng Hsiang] shifted their gears,” said Danko. “They know they can’t defend their product, so they retreated to Taiwan. They thumbed their nose at us and said come and get us here.” – Shannon Lafferty COURT BROADENS SCHOOLS’ DUTY OF CARE School districts are responsible for the safety of students on school grounds at all hours, not just when classes are in session, a divided state appeal court has ruled. Friday’s decision by Fresno’s Fifth District Court of Appeal lets stand a judgment of more than $2.3 million against Bakersfield’s Panama Buena Vista Union School District. The district had been sued by the parents of a 15-year-old developmentally impaired boy who was sodomized in 1997 by another student before classes began at Earl Warren Junior High School. “Given the foreseeability of harm to special education students, the well-settled statutory duty of school districts to take all reasonable steps to protect them, the relatively minimal burden on school districts to ensure adequate supervision for any students they permit on their campuses prior to the start of school and the paramount policy concern of providing our children with safe learning environments,” Justice Rebecca Wiseman wrote, “we find the district owed the minor a duty of care to protect him from an assault on campus.” Justice Thomas Harris concurred, but Justice Herbert Levy dissented, saying it wasn’t reasonably foreseeable that a student who had been disciplined primarily for defiant and disruptive behavior would rape another student. “The majority’s contrary position,” he wrote, “expands the concept of duty to the point of essentially imposing strict liability on school districts for the criminal conduct of any student with a discipline record that includes hitting and kicking other students. This is a clear departure from established California law.” The full text of M.W. v. Panama Buena Vista Union School District, F037618, will appear in Tuesday’s California Daily Opinion Service. – Mike McKee

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