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Family of Girl, 9, Is Awarded $700,000 : Courts: Jury finds McDonald's Corp. liable for bulk of damages for accident in which youngster broke a leg on restaurant playground equipment.

December 04, 1991|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury in Bakersfield ordered the McDonald's Corp. to pay the major share of $700,000 in punitive damages awarded Tuesday to the family of a 9-year-old girl whose leg was broken while she was using playground equipment at one of the chain's restaurants.

On Monday, the same Kern County Superior Court jury had held McDonald's and JBI Inc. of Long Beach, manufacturers of the equipment, liable for $43,900 in general damages for the injury Marlena Escalera suffered Dec. 26, l988, while playing at a MacDonald's restaurant in Delano.

In its verdict Tuesday, the jury ordered McDonald's to pay $600,000 of the punitive damages, with JBI to pay the balance.

Edward Steinbrecher, attorney for the Arleta family, had asked for $10 million in punitive damages, but he said he was satisfied with the verdict.

During the trial, Steinbrecher contended that McDonald's and JBI failed to correct a design flaw that allowed shoelaces to catch on bolts in the "Tug-N-Turn" equipment on which the girl was hurt.

Records show that five children using Tug-N-Turn suffered broken legs at one Houston restaurant alone.

Company documents also show that as the injuries mounted on the equipment, McDonald's officials and JBI developed a safety device for the Tug-N-Turn, but failed to order that it be installed on the nearly 800 Tug-N-Turns already in operation.

At least 120 claims totaling about $190,000 have been paid to other children injured on the equipment, but lawyers for the Escaleras said theirs was the first suit of its kind to go on trial.

Dick Starmann, a senior vice president at McDonald's said the Tug-N-Turn is no longer used in any of the company's Playlands.

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