BRYAN, Texas (CN) - A Texas jury ordered McDonald's to pay $27 million to the families of two college students who were killed in an automobile collision after one was severely beaten in the restaurant's parking lot.
A Brazos County jury on Wednesday found McDonald's 97 percent negligent in the February 2012 deaths of Denton James Ward, 18, of Flower Mound, and Lauren Bailey Crisp, 19, of Dripping Springs.
The families' attorney, Chris Hamilton with Stanly Hamilton in Dallas, said Ward and an unidentified friend were walking through the McDonald's parking lot next to the Texas A&M University campus in College Station where they were attacked by a mob.
The victims were loaded into Ward's vehicle by their girlfriends and were sped off to a hospital, but the vehicle ran a red light and collided with a pickup truck that killed Crisp. Ward was also declared dead at the scene.
The plaintiffs argued at trial that Ward died in the parking lot after being kicked and stomped by up to 20 attackers, not by the later automobile collision. They said McDonald's should have provided more security because police had been called more than 20 times to break up fights in the preceding year.
Immediately after the verdict, Hamilton said he hoped the verdict sends a message that customer safety "is more important that late-night revenue."
"The night these two kids died, this was a dangerous location, and McDonald's knew it," Hamilton said. "Yet they did nothing to prevent their senseless deaths."
Only one of the attackers, Marcus Jones, was arrested, and sentenced to 90 days in jail for assaulting Ward's friend, Hamilton said.
McDonald's told the Dallas Morning News after the verdict that the deaths were "a very tragic accident" and that "our thoughts continue to be with the families and loved ones involved."
McDonald's added in an emailed statement: "We respectfully disagree with the jury's verdict and will be appealing the decision."