Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Aramark is challenging on appeal the award of over $100 million in damages ($65 million in punitive damages) in an alcohol-liability case in New Jersey arising from a drunk driving accident causing the paralysis of a young girl.
Aramark disputes various evidentiary and jury instruction rulings as well as asserting that punitives are unavailable under the New Jersey alcohol liability statute (which is silent as to punitives).
The plaintiffs successfully argued that a culture of intoxication was present:
During the four-week trial, Mazie presented evidence that Aramark vendors repeatedly violated rules against selling more than two beers to a single fan at a time. Lanzaro was called to the witness stand and testified he drank the equivalent of 16 twelve-ounce beers on Oct. 24. 1999, most of them at the stadium, and was slurring his speech when he tipped a vendor at halftime to buy six beers at once.
After leaving Giants Stadium, Lanzaro crashed into the Vernis' car as they returned home from a pumpkin-picking trip. Lanzaro's blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.266 percent, more than 2 1/2 times what was then the legal limit of 0.1 percent. He is serving a five-year prison term.
Aramark disputed the relevance of the "culture" evidence as well as asserting several other arguments:
As part of its appeal, Aramark also argued that the trial judge erred by dismissing claims of liability against the Giants, the National Football League and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which had settled with the Vernis for about $700,000. Aramark argued that the jury should have been able to consider whether those defendants were partly responsible for the accident.
Aramark's attorneys also argued that the jury should have considered the potential liability of other parties: Antonia Verni's father, who did not put Antonia in a child car seat before the accident; a friend of Lanzaro who drank with him before the game and was in the car with him at the time of the crash; and a local strip club that the pair patronized shortly before the car crash.
Anthony Sebok wrote a piece about the case back in 2003, concluding that the plaintiffs' case was "dicey," based on the idea that the liability statute was aimed more at corner bars than a stadium.