A jury’s $135 million award to the family of a girl paralyzed in a car wreck caused by a drunken football fan should be a wake-up call to teams and their vendors, said the head of a nonprofit group that advises pro sports leagues.
Jill Pepper, executive director of Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management, or TEAM, said Thursday that all stadium concession workers should know that their job is more than handing someone a beer, making change or opening a cash register.
“It’s providing a safe, secure experience for everyone at the ballpark,” said Pepper, whose group is a coalition of representatives from professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey.
A jury Wednesday awarded $75 million in punitive damages to Ronald and Fazila Verni, whose 7-year-old daughter, Antonia, was paralyzed from the neck down in the crash in 1999. A day earlier, the family was awarded $60 million in compensatory damages.
The compensatory damages were assessed equally against David Lanzaro, 34, and Aramark Corp., the Giants Stadium concessionaire that sold beers to him at the game. The jury ruled that Aramark was liable for the additional $75 million.
Lanzaro, whose blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, is serving a five-year prison term for vehicular assault.
Debbie Albert, spokeswoman for Philadelphia-based Aramark, declined to comment on the award Thursday but the company has said it would appeal.
Largest alcohol liability award in 25 years
The award was the largest alcohol liability award in the United States in at least 25 years, said Jennifer Shannon of Jury Verdict Research, a Pennsylvania firm that analyzes trends in personal injury lawsuits.
At a news conference Thursday, Ronald Verni said his daughter needs round-the-clock care that has been provided up to now by him and his wife, Fazila, who was also injured in the accident.
“Hopefully she’ll be able to get the care she needs and deserves,” Verni said, choking back tears. “Hopefully she’ll be able to enjoy some of the things she wouldn’t have been able to enjoy.”
The NFL did not comment on the verdicts, and spokesman Greg Aiello did not say whether the league was considering changing its stadium alcohol policies. “We review those policies and we will continue to do so,” he said.
The Vernis had sued the NFL — as well as the Giants and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority — but a judge dismissed those complaints last fall, ruling they were not liable.
Currently, the NFL forbids beer sales after the third quarter. The Giants choose to shut down beer vendors at the start of the third quarter and the stadium also mandates that fans can buy only two beers at a time — a rule Lanzaro sidestepped by tipping the vendor $10, allowing him to buy six beers.
In a statement, the Giants said, “No words can express the sorrow we feel for what the Verni family has gone through. We believe that Aramark has the right alcohol policies in place and will take the necessary and appropriate steps to enforce those policies.”