SBJ/January 24 - 30, 2005/Facilities

$105M verdict sends ripple through industry

Stadium concessionaires received a grim reminder to emphasize alcohol education with their employees last week after a New Jersey jury levied $105 million in judgments against Aramark, but firms wouldn’t say what specific effects the case might have on their business.

Aramark was ordered to pay the damages after the jury determined it continued to sell beer to an obviously intoxicated fan at a 1999 New York Giants game at the Meadowlands. The fan later was behind the wheel and crashed into another car, paralyzing a 2-year-old girl.

The nine-figure sum is reportedly the largest judgment against a business for serving too much alcohol to an impaired customer.

“That’s an astounding number, especially in the sports world,” said Marc Blumencranz, executive vice president of BWD Group LLC in Jericho, N.Y., major league sports’ largest insurance broker. “I can’t think of a claim that comes anywhere near that.”

The verdicts amounted to $30 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages. Aramark plans to appeal, said Debbie Albert, associate vice president. Aramark “believes that it has adequate insurance and other resources to address this matter,” according to an 8K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission after the verdict.

Food service firms wouldn’t say whether the case might further reduce the purchase limits and cutoff times for beer sales. Executives did say the judgments would have them rethinking their business practices.

Concessionaires will pay greater attention to their vendors selling beer in the seats to make sure they’re not violating the rules for serving intoxicated patrons, and there may be more states passing legislation prohibiting alcohol sales in the seating bowl, said Chris Bigelow, a food service consultant. California and Massachusetts are two states with such laws, he said.

The inebriated fan and drunken driver, Daniel Lanzaro, reportedly told authorities he gave a $10 tip to an Aramark vendor to buy more beers than the two per purchase allowed at Giants Stadium.

“This is something that will make every facility manager and concessionaire re-evaluate what they’re doing and making sure these types of situations don’t happen,” said Ed Campbell, owner of the Ed Campbell Co., food provider at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Tom Olson, general manager of Sportservice at Miller Park in Milwaukee, said, “You have to be cautious and keep your policies up to date and your training adequate.”

Sportservice uses the Training for Intervention Procedures program, or TIPS, to educate workers about alcohol and its effects on people and the appropriate steps to take when someone has had too much to drink, said Rick Abramson, the company’s president.

The concessionaire also participates in the Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management program, or TEAM, another educational program for employees, Olson said. MLB and the NFL provided fans with the chance to win tickets to the 2004 World Series and the coming Super Bowl and Pro Bowl by registering as a designated driver at their facilities.

“Most companies and teams have their own policies and procedures, but you have to manage it, make sure they’re doing it correctly,” Olson said.

Training the workers to identify fans who’ve had too much to drink is a preventive measure, however. “Management ultimately has the responsibility to see what’s going on,” Campbell said. “You have to take charge.”

Dram shop laws in 42 states, including New Jersey, where the court case was heard, stipulate that a company or establishment serving alcohol to an intoxicated person who subsequently causes death or injury to a third party as a result of alcohol-related accidents is liable for its actions.

Cotton Bowl supplier Campbell noted that Texas enforces that law.

“That light bulb’s been on at our porch for a long time,” Campbell said. “I’ll stop serving beer totally before I compromise my livelihood.”

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