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Jury: Beer vendor must pay $75M
Drunken driver hit car, disabling 2-year-old in 1999

A jury awarded $75 million in punitive damages Wednesday to the family of a 7-year-old girl paralyzed in a car wreck caused by a drunken football fan. A day earlier, the family was awarded $60 million in compensatory damages.

Ronald and Fazila Verni were headed home from a pumpkin-picking trip in 1999 with their 2-year-old daughter, Antonia, when their car was hit by a truck driven by Daniel Lanzaro, 34. Antonia was paralyzed from the neck down.

Lanzaro, whose blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, is serving a five-year prison term for vehicular assault.

The compensatory damages were assessed equally against Lanzaro and Aramark Corp., the Giants Stadium concessionaire that sold beers to him at the game. The jury ruled Wednesday that Aramark was liable for the additional $75 million.

"We’re ecstatic," said David Mazie, the Vernis’ attorney. "I think it sends an appropriate message, and hopefully this will make a difference at arenas across the country."

The family sued Aramark, claiming vendors sold beers to Lanzaro even though he was clearly drunk and that Aramark fostered an atmosphere in which intoxicated patrons were served.

An Aramark lawyer, Brian Harris, did not immediately return a message Wednesday seeking comment. But he suggested during the trial that the vendors were not irresponsible because Lanzaro is an admitted alcoholic who did not show signs of intoxication or was able to fool the servers.

A judge previously dismissed the Vernis’ complaints against the National Football League, the Giants and the Sports and Exposition Authority, ruling they were not liable.

The NFL forbids beer sales after the third quarter; the Giants shut down beer vendors at the start of the third quarter. The stadium also mandates that fans can buy only two beers at a time — a rule Lanzaro sidestepped by tipping the vendor $10, allowing him to buy six beers.

CNN International - 20 January 2005
 
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