Under the headline Jury awards parents $27 million in McDonald's negligence lawsuit, readers learn that a jury ordered that McDonald's pay millions for failure to protect its customers.
According to the article in the Bryan-College Station Eagle (and other publications), a McDonald's location had a history of violent confrontations on its property yet, the plaintiffs alleged, failed to engage security personnel to protect the store's customers.
The key issue, according to the plaintiffs' counsel was that the store management failed to do anything to protect its customers even after 20-plus incidents police responded to from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on the weekends in the 11 months leading up to the deaths of two young people.
The lesson for risk management practitioners is simple: Eliminate - or at least mitigate - risks when they are first identified.
In the McDonald's case, security lights in areas where customers - and personnel - frequent was insufficient to prevent violence; one of the plaintiffs' attorney's told the jury that “I will tell my kids if they go to a McDonald’s at night and they don’t see an off-duty police officer, don’t get out of the car.”
For practitioners it pays to know not only their client but the neighborhood as well.
What are the crime statistics for the neighborhood? What type crimes?
Who are the neighbors - are the neighbors targets for any groups? Are the neighbors security conscious - are the neighbor's parking areas secure and well lit?
Is your client's parking area secure - that means more than a wooden (or even metal) bar across the entrance way. This is especially important when parking is inside a parking garage.
Are at-risk personnel escorted from/to their vehicles when arriving or leaving in darkness or when the facility is otherwise unattended (e.g., weekends, holidays). How are "at-risk personnel" identified; if this category cannot be strictly identified then all personnel must be considered "at risk."
Having police patrols or having a police presence nearby may not be enough to protect the people who work in, or visit, the facility, even if law enforcement promises a fast response. Fast still may be too late.
It may be impossible to totally eliminate all threats in and around the facility, but if management wants to avoid a potential multi-million lawsuit (and the cost of defending itself) it must carefully consider history.
It was the history at the specific McDonald's that caused a jury to award the $27 million.
McDonald's is expected to appeal the verdict and award.