A Brazos County jury awarded a $27 million verdict against McDonald’s Corp. and two of its subsidiaries in a premises-liability lawsuit.
An 18-year-old man and an 19-year-old woman, both white, had stopped for an early morning visit at a McDonald’s in College Station, the plaintiffs alleged in a July 24, 2013, amended petition in William P. Crisp Jr. v. McDonald’s.
When they did, they encountered 150-200 individuals, the “vast majority” of whom were from “nearby black fraternities,” according to the police report that plaintiffs submitted as evidence. The police report goes on to state that a fight ensued between the man and members of that crowd. In an attempt by the couple to get to a hospital for the man’s resulting injuries, the car they were in ended up in a red-light collision that left the couple dead.
In their amended petition, the plaintiffs alleged that the “criminal activity” that took place on that night was foreseeable and that McDonald’s “had significant knowledge of how dangerous the premises was on weekend nights … yet they did nothing to provide warning or protection to their patrons.”
The petition sought damages based on gross negligence, among other causes of action.
In three individual answers filed March 24, all three McDonald’s defendants, including McDonald’s of Texas and McDonald’s USA, denied the allegations and asserted as an affirmative defense that, among others, those involved in the fight and the vehicle driver bore responsibility for the deaths.
On July 30, the 361st District Court jury held the McDonald’s defendants 97 percent responsible for the deaths; John Does 1 percent responsible; and one named member of the crowd, who was shown in a video of the fight but not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, 2 percent responsible.
How He Won
Chris Hamilton, a partner in Dallas’ Standly Hamilton, serves as lead trial counsel for the man’s family and the woman’s family, both of which sued the McDonald’s defendants. Hamilton said several strategies played a role in his victory, which came after a nearly two-week trial and four hours of deliberations.
Hamilton said he showed that McDonald’s executives had relied on this specific restaurant location for a test of postmidnight service, and they had known about the large volume of sales taking place.
Hamilton also said that, at the same time, the company had a lax corporate security system, so company executives didn’t receive regular and timely reports about the alleged pattern of violence that had been occurring at that location during those hours.
Hamilton also said he showed with “overwhelming medical evidence” that the man’s deadly injuries occurred during the fight at the McDonald’s, and that “he was probably dead in the car.”
Hamilton also had included in the jury charge some instructions regarding emergencies to help the jury panel attribute responsibility to the three McDonald’s defendants —even though the driver of the vehicle ran a red light trying to get the couple to a hospital.
Marshall Rosenberg, a partner in Houston’s Hartline Dacus Berger Dreyer, who represents all the named corporate McDonald’s defendants, did not return a call for comment.
With its verdict, the jury included $13 million for pain and anguish suffered by the families.