FOOTBALL, BEER AND THE DRAM SHOP ACT – WHO IS RESPONSIBLE WHEN A DRUNKEN FAN GETS BEHIND THE WHEEL?
If a drunk driver causes an accident and someone is harmed, normally that driver is held responsible for paying for damages and compensation for injuries. Depending on the circumstances, who served that driver the alcohol, may also be legally responsible.
NEW JERSEY’S DRAM SHOP ACT
New Jersey’s Dram Shop Act provides that “[a] person who sustains personal injury or property damage as a result of the negligent service of alcoholic beverages by a licensed alcoholic beverage server may recover damages from a licensed alcoholic beverage server” if the server was negligent (i.e. served a visibly intoxicated person), the injury was proximately caused by the negligent service of alcoholic beverages, and the injury was a foreseeable consequence of the negligent service. Voss v. Tranquilino, 413 N.J. Super. 82, 88, 992 A.2d 829, 833 (App. Div. 2010)(quoting N.J.S.A. 2A:22A-5(a)). That licensed beverage server may be a concession owner at a professional sports stadium. One recent case involved a lawsuit against Centerplate and the Indianapolis Colts. Centerplate is the business that sells beer to those at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts play. During one such game, 31 year old Trenton Gaff, by his own admission, bought and drank five beers during a Colts game in 2010. While driving away, his SUV swerved off the road, striking two pedestrians, killing a twelve year old girl and injuring her cousin. Gaff’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Because of the accident, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison, with two years credited for time already served. The deceased girl’s mother sued Centerplate for serving Gaff under Indiana’s Dram Shop Act. The case was dismissed and that dismissal is being appealed. Causation will always be a major hurdle in such cases with pre-game and post-game tailgating and consumption, the proliferation of beer vendors and refreshment stands throughout a stadium, and the volume of patrons served demonstrating how difficult it can be to meet New Jersey’s standard of negligent service of alcoholic beverages. Demonstrating whether and by whom the impaired driver was served while visibly intoxicated may be impossible. The mother of Gaff’s victim claims that Centerplate’s method of selling beer, mostly by volunteers whose organizations get a percentage of sales as a donation, creates incentives to sell as much beer as possible. An impaired New York Giants fan sparked dram shop actions resulting in a 2005 civil jury finding liability against Aramark, the Giants’ concession company, for $150 million in damages due to a car accident caused by a drunken fan that left a two year old paralyzed from the neck down. That decision was appealed and overturned the next year. Giants Stadium and Aramark are reported to have settled the case in 2008 for $25 million. Beer is big business in professional sports and after events thousands of potentially impaired take to the road. In a 2011 study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, University of Minnesota researchers tested the blood-alcohol level of fans leaving professional baseball and football games and found about eight percent were above the legal driving limit. That translates to about 5,000 fans exiting a typical NFL game with high enough blood-alcohol content to be considered intoxicated under New Jersey law.
Contact CraigAnninBaxter Law
NJ Auto And Truck Accidents Attorneys represent both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury cases involving trucks and automobiles. If your business serves alcohol, or you or a loved one has been injured due to a drunk driver, and you have questions about liability and the Dram Shop Act, contact our office for a free consultation at 856-795-2220.