Date: January 26, 2005
The only statement Aramark Corp. released earlier this week regarding a high profile New Jersey lawsuit was that the company planned to appeal the $105 million verdict delivered against them by a jury who ruled the company had disregarded safety in serving alcohol to an already intoxicated patron.
Debbie Albert, associate vice president, Aramark Business Unit Communications, sent this statement: “We are greatly saddened by the injuries that Antonia Verni suffered and our sympathies go out to her and her family. We believe strongly that many factors contributed to the accident and we intend to appeal the jury's decision.”
The jury awarded the Vernis $75 million in punitive damages and $30 million in compensatory damages early last week.
The lawsuit, filed in New Jersey's Superior Court, was filed by Ronald and Fazila Verni after an October 1999 traffic accident caused by Daniel Lanzaro, who said he had become intoxicated while attending a New York Giants game at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. The accident left their daughter, Antonia, with permanent paralysis from the neck down. Lanzaro was found guilty of vehicular assault in a criminal trial and sentenced to five years.
In the months that followed, the Vernis filed suit against the National Football League, the Giants, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, and Aramark, which holds the food and beverage contract at the complex. The judge dismissed the case against all except Aramark. In reports of the case, Lanzaro alleged that he had given a beer vendor at the stadium a $10 tip to circumvent the Giants Stadium's two-beers-at-a-time rule. In addition, reports indicated that the family claimed Aramark employees served Lanzaro beer even though he was clearly intoxicated. Policy at the stadium forbids employees from serving beer to patrons who appear drunk. There had also been allegations Lanzaro had consumed alcohol in other locations other than the stadium.
Albert gave no indication of a timetable for Aramark's appeal process. But the industry will be watching, as it has been. Certainly the verdict and its size has many taking notice, but industry expert Chris Bigelow, Bigelow Companies, a concession consulting company and current president of the National Association of Concessionaires, doesn't expect to see major changes. “This is not going to change the industry,” Bigelow said. “You will never see the elimination of alcohol sales at stadiums.”
This may be the largest verdict Bigelow has heard of, but certainly not the first. “There have been other lawsuits about problems or accidents after a game, but so many times there are other circumstances outside of what a person did at the game,” he said. “The lawsuits usually never end up going to trial.”
According to reports, Aramark has adequate insurance to cover the verdict costs, which, said Bigelow is a very typical clause in coverage contracts. “Typically, every contract I've seen provides liability insurance for alcohol,” he said. “That is the reason why a lot of city-owned facilities want to contract that out.”
Serving alcohol in sports and entertainment facilities is not taken lightly. Thousands of dollars are spent every year in training and creating policy. NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello said the NFL already has a league-wide policy in effect. “Our policy is that we end alcohol sales at the end of the third quarter,” Aiello said.
He said Monday that he hasn't heard any discussion of changing NFL alcohol policy, but “that's not to rule out changes. We are always reviewing our policies.”
And even though the NFL has set the end of the third quarter policy, many stadiums set their own policies and may chose to end the sale earlier. Such is the case at Giants Stadium. That stadium ends alcohol sales at the beginning of the third quarter. Aiello said also there are often different policies for night games.
Peter John-Baptiste, director of public relations, New York Giants, said since the Giants are just tenants at the stadium, he couldn't answer questions regarding any policy change there. The Giants released this statement:
“This was a terrible tragedy that was caused by an individual's irresponsible and reckless behavior. 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.”
A spokesman from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority couldn't be reached for comment by presstime.
Interviewed for this story: Debbie Albert, (215) 238-3614; Chris Bigelow, (816) 483-5553; Peter John-Baptiste, (201) 935-8111; Greg Aiello, (212) 450-2000