A major “dram shop” case just settled in New York that could be a forerunner to similar cases across the country. The Giants Stadium and Aramark agreed to pay $25 million to settle the case of Antonia Verni, a girl paralyzed in a crash with a drunken football fan. Usually such settlements are not public, but this settlement was revealed at the request of a public advocacy group.
Verni couldn’t remain confidential because the girl’s privacy was trumped by the presumption of open court records and the public interest in her tragic case.
Verni, 10, a quadriplegic who needs a breathing tube after she was involved in a crash with Daniel Lanzaro, who drank heavily at a game before driving. Lanzaro testified later that vendors had served him while intoxicated — a common practice at sports stadiums. Previously, she had won a record $105 million in compensatory and punitive at a trial in 2005, but Aramark won a retrail Verni v. Lanzaro, A-1816-07. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversal was interesting because the court objected to the trial judge allowing testimony on “a culture of intoxication” at stadiums.
Here is the breakdown:
1. Verni and her mother Fazila received $19.5 million in cash and annuities to produce more than $60,000 a month for her life, guaranteed for 25 years even if she dies before then.
2. Lawyers who represented the family and served as court-appointed guardian will share most of the rest, with the lion’s share of $5.2 million going to plaintiff’s counsel David Mazie and his firm, Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman in Roseland.
3. Her court appointed guardian, Albert Burstein will receive $155,000 in fees and will fund a Medicare lien bargained down 25 percent to $71,000.
Dram shop liability judgments remain rare for stadiums due to the environment. The vendors are constantly moving around and often overlap with other vendors. Eye-witnesses tend to be less useful in the highly chaotic atmosphere of a game. Often different people will buy beer at different times. However, this case shows that liability can still be established even in this fluid environment.
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