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Quashing of Dram Shop Damage Award Confirmed

Most jurisdictions recognize that drunken misbehavior is the responsibility of the drunk and of no one else. Not so progressive New Jersey, where servers of alcohol may be held liable for the acts of those who overindulge. [When will supermarkets be held liable for obesity?] But even in the Garden State more than enough is sometimes enough. As the New Jersey Law Journal (reported in Law.com) notes, the NJ Supremes have just turned down an appeal of an intermediate court's decision quashing a $105 million verdict against a Giants stadium beer vendor.

In 2005, a Bergen County Superior Court jury found the stadium vending company, Harry M. Stevens Inc., and its parent Aramark Corp., liable for $30 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages. That decision was quashed, as the trial judge had admitted into evidence testimony about the "culture of drunkenness" at the stadium [involving alcohol supplied by fans themselves, at tailgate events, for example]. The appellate court laconically noted that only evidence relating to liquor served by the defense to a visibly intoxicated fan (who after the game drove away and severely injured the nine-year-old plaintiff) would be admissible.

The Appellate Division ruling also allows the jury to allocate fault to other defendants: The Gallery, a bar the drunk driver visited after the game; Michael Holder, a friend who bought liquor for Lanzaro; the New York Giants and the National Football League. The cases against them had been dismissed after either summary judgment or settlements, and the jury had not been allowed to apportion any of the liability to them.

Whoever presides at the trial also will also have to decide whether the vendors' parent company can be excused from the case. Aramark Corp., the parent company of the vendors, argued that the plaintiff lacks any evidence that the majority shareholder has responsibility in the service of liquor.

"Due to multiple errors in the course of the trial, we reverse and remand for a new trial," wrote the appellate court panel last August. New Jersey courts have been disdainful of tort law for years now -- perhaps the state Supremes' refusal to grant cert in this case is an omen that sound tort doctrine may be making a slight comeback in the Garden State.

Earlier coverage on Overlawyered, including a link to Verni v. Harry M. Stevens: August 4 and links therein.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.