Secrecy Agreement Broken, Park Says : Disneyland Retracts Negligence Settlement

Times Staff Writer

Disneyland backed out of a settlement Wednesday with a woman whose son was stabbed to death in Tomorrowland, alleging her attorney broke a promise to keep the settlement secret.

A jury in July had found the amusement park negligent for failing to provide adequate medical care to Mel C. Yorba, 18, when he was stabbed in 1981, and had awarded $600,000 in damages to his brother Mark and his mother, Ellen Reynolds of Riverside. Last week, Reynolds' attorney, John A. Luetto, confirmed that the case had been settled, avoiding a long appeal.

But in papers filed Wednesday, Disneyland attorney Richard E. McCain said, "The conduct of (Reynolds and Luetto) demonstrates a complete lack of integrity and constitutes material breach of the agreement."

McCain renewed his demand for a new trial, alleging misconduct of jurors and insufficiency of evidence.

The two-week trial before Orange County Superior Court Judge Jerrold S. Oliver became a challenge to park emergency medical policies and practices.

Yorba was stabbed through the heart, diaphragm and a lung after an argument with James P. O'Driscoll, who is now serving a 14-year-to-life prison sentence for second-degree murder.

Yorba was treated by park employees and taken to a hospital emergency room in a park van, which was not equipped with flashing lights or a siren.

A written Disneyland policy at the time required that trained paramedics be summoned in the event of any life-threatening emergency in the park. The park nurse who was called to treat Yorba testified that she had never seen the policy and had been instructed never to call paramedics.

The contrast between the written policy and the nurse's sworn testimony turned out to be critical in deciding the case against Disneyland, according to one juror. The jury felt that the written policy meant that the nurse was negligent in not calling paramedics, despite testimony that the quickest way to get Yorba to a hospital was in the van, according to foreman David Scott.

The collapse of the settlement means that McCain's claims that the jury engaged in misconduct will be argued. Interviews with jurors revealed that they believed Yorba's wound was fatal, regardless of the treatment he received, McCain maintains. To award damages under those circumstances constitutes misconduct by the jury, according to Disneyland court papers.

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