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Jury awards parents $1 million in wrongful death lawsuit over McDonald's parking lot brawl

DADE CITY — Anthony Makowski died by strangulation after an alcohol-fueled brawl in a McDonald's parking lot on April 24, 2005.

The man who killed him in the fight was never charged, but a civil jury on Wednesday decided that the owner of the fast-food restaurant and the owner of the shopping center on U.S. 41 where it sits should pay $1 million to the parents of the former high school football player for their pain and suffering.

Wayne and Cathy Makowski, who testified about how they tried for years to have a child, cried as the verdict came down.

They sued the business owners in 2006, alleging they failed to provide adequate security for the 24-hour drive-through that attracted late-night partyers.

"I hope this could bring closure, and they can begin the healing process," their attorney, Curt Obront, said after the verdict.

Anthony Makowski was in the drive-through with a friend when they got into an argument with two men in the car ahead of them. Law enforcement investigators determined Makowski was the aggressor in the fight with Martin Robles-Taylor, a 25-year-old who had been through training in the Army. Makowski, authorities said, charged at Robles-Taylor, body-slammed and battered him until Robles-Taylor managed to put Makowski into a choke hold that killed him.

The death was ruled "excusable homicide" and Robles-Taylor never faced charges.

In his closing argument, Obront said that because of the often-rowdy atmosphere in the McDonald's parking lot, the owners should have posted a security guard or armed off-duty officer there to deter fights and other crime.

"It was preventable simply by having security. It was foreseeable based on incidents that had been occurring. There was an atmosphere of drinking, revelry, fighting and carrying on for years before this incident," Obront said.

Bryant Blevins, who represents Brickman Management Co. and B & B Cash Grocery Stores Inc., argued to jurors that Robles-Taylor caused Makowski's death, not a lack of security at McDonald's or the raucous atmosphere in the parking lot.

"This case is all about money. It's not about fault. Mr. Robles is the one at fault," Blevins said.

The Makowskis' attorney had suggested a damages award of $3 million to $5 million for each parent.

Jurors ended up awarding $750,000 to each parent. But they also determined that the two businesses and Anthony Makowski himself were equally responsible for his death. After subtracting the one-third of the damages attributed to Anthony Makowski, each parent will get $500,000.

Cathy Makowski told jurors earlier this week that should they prevail in the lawsuit, she wanted to set up a foundation in her son's memory to help others in some way.

Both sides asked for a mistrial at different points. At 7:20 p.m., when the jury signaled it had reached a verdict, everyone filed into court. But when individual jurors were polled to see if they agreed with the verdict, the first woman said "No."

Circuit Judge Susan Gardner sent the panel back in to deliberate, and when they returned five minutes later, the verdict and damages were the same.

Jury awards parents $1 million in wrongful death lawsuit over McDonald's parking lot brawl 06/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 9:03pm]
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