Lawsuit filed against Reading Cinemas in fatal choking incident

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A wrongful death lawsuit filed against Reading International Cinemas alleges a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome choked to death on a hot dog as employees at a Bakersfield movie theater refused to turn on the lights or otherwise help the victim.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the mother and grandfather of Jacob Mendiola, alleges theater employees “callously refused to turn on the lights an/or turn down the audio” as Jacob choked and his grandfather struggled to help him. It alleges theater employees told the grandfather they weren’t allowed to interrupt a movie once it had begun.

Filed Aug. 15, the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A message left at Reading International’s Los Angeles office Monday was not immediately returned.

Filed by Bakersfield attorney Timothy M. Osborn, the lawsuit states Jacob’s grandfather, Ricardo Mendiola, took the boy to see a movie on Oct. 30, 2014, at Reading Cinema Valley Plaza 16 on Wible Road. During the film, Jacob began choking on a hot dog purchased on the premises.

Ricardo Mendiola struggled to see and hear what was happening in the darkened theater, and tried dislodging the object obstructing Jacob’s breathing. He pleaded with theater employees to turn on the lights and turn down the sound so he could better aid his grandson.

The employees refused, the lawsuit states, and looked on as Jacob suffocated and eventually stopped moving.

“As a result of the defendants’ ongoing refusal to turn on the lights and turn down the movie’s audio, during what was clearly a life-threatening emergency…(Jacob) tragically lost his life and (his mother) suffered the wrongful death of her beloved son,” the document states.

The lawsuit alleges theater employees “willfully, knowingly and recklessly endangered its patrons” by adhering to policies and procedures that would prevent them from receiving required medical aid in case of emergencies.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Nov. 29.

By: Jason Kotowski
Originally Published on the Bakersfield Californian August 22, 2016