Settlement reached in theater choking death lawsuit

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A settlement has been reached in the case of a boy with Down Syndrome who died after choking on a hot dog at a movie theater.

The terms of the settlement, reached Wednesday, are confidential, but the boy’s family is pleased with the outcome, said plaintiffs’ attorney Timothy M. Osborn.

“I can tell you that, once again, I’m extremely proud of this family,” Osborn said. “I think they’ve shown true grit over the past three years in this legal battle.”

The lawsuit filed against Reading International Cinemas, LLC, alleged theater employees had no training on what to do in the event of an emergency, and Reading had no policies and procedures in place for stopping a film, turning the lights up or lowering the audio.

Reading denied the allegations.

On Oct. 30, 2014, Jacob Mendiola, 14, and his grandfather, Ricardo Mendiola, went to Reading Cinemas Valley Plaza for a showing of the film “The Book of Life.” They bought snacks and entered Auditorium 13.

A number of lights in that auditorium hadn’t been working for months, Osborn said, and the theater had no clear requirement on inspecting or maintaining the lights in its auditoriums.

The movie started and Jacob began choking on a hot dog. First his grandfather, then two other men in the theater, tried to help the boy, but the darkness impeded their efforts, Osborn said.

The grandfather pleaded with theater employees to turn on the lights, but the staff had been trained that under no circumstances should a movie be stopped once it had begun, Osborn said. And when a manager finally tried to turn on the lights, those she did manage to turn on hardly made a difference as so many lights in that auditorium simply didn’t work, he said.

When emergency responders arrived, Jacob had already been without air long enough that he was later declared brain dead at a hospital in Madera. His mother made the difficult decision to remove him from life support.

Several of his organs were donated, which Osborn called “one last act of greatness” by a sweet boy who loved his family, and going to the movies.

Jason Kotowski
Posted on Jun 27, 2019