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Pierson v. Service America Corp. – Stadium Beer Vendor Strikes Out in Drunk Driving Case

The case of Pierson v. Service America Corp. could create a new level of accountability for booze vendors at sporting events.
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The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled the family of a 12-year-old girl struck and killed by a drunk driver who had been imbibing at a football game just prior to the crash may continue with their negligence lawsuit against the vendor who served him alcohol.

Boston drunk driving accident lawyers know that while this case takes place in Indiana, the vendor is based in South Carolina and holds contracts with stadiums across the world, including at stadiums in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, San Diego and San Francisco. Undoubtedly, other vendors are carefully watching the development of this case through the court system.

The appellate court’s 3-0 ruling reversed an earlier district court ruling granting summary judgment to the defendant, a food and beverage distributor whose attorney had argued it wasn’t liable because the person who served the beer was an unknown volunteer.

The court indicated questions remained about whether the driver was drunk off the booze he consumed inside the stadium or outside the stadium. That will be a key issue for the plaintiffs moving forward.

According to case records, the girl was walking along a side street with her cousin, also 12, when they were struck by a man who earlier that day had attended the football game. The victim suffered critical injuries and later died, while her cousin was seriously injured.

The driver pleaded guilty to a charge of driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or higher causing death. A judge sentenced him to 10 years behind bars.

Authorities determined he had consumed alcohol prior to the game at a tailgate party, as well as during the game (with alcohol served by the defendant’s vendors) and also after the game at another tailgate party.

The lawsuit alleges the defendant was negligent in failing to train, instruct, monitor and restrict the sales of alcohol to patrons who were visibly intoxicated.

Despite an extensive investigation, the identity of the person or persons who sold alcohol to the driver inside the stadium was never discovered. It was on this basis the defense moved for summary judgment, which was initially granted. The trial court indicated there was no evidence that any employee of the vendor served alcohol to this patron while he was visibly intoxicated, and there wasn’t evidence this vendor was the proximate cause of the crash.

Upon appeal, the appellate court weighed a portion of state law indicating it is unlawful for any person to serve alcohol to another person he or she knows is intoxicated. This is known as a dram shop law, and it’s typically applied to bar owners and liquor stores.

In this case, the driver consumed alcohol throughout the day, starting at noon and ending sometime around 5:30, just before the 6 p.m. crash. The game lasted from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Officers at the scene indicated his blood-alcohol level was 0.205 percent. He later told officers he consumed four beers prior to the game, five beers during the game and three beers after the game. A toxicologist testified during a deposition that for him to have the blood-alcohol level he did, he likely would have consumed more than that during and after the game.

The plaintiffs argued the vendor was the sole provider of alcohol at the stadium, and per the state’s dram shop laws, it should be considered a “person” based on the actions of its hundreds of agents at numerous points of sale.

The appellate court agreed, reversing the district court and remanding the case back to the lower court for further proceeding.

The vendor has the option of appealing to the state supreme court, though it is not yet clear if its representatives will take that action.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Pierson v. Service America Corp., May 21, 2014, Court of Appeals of Indiana
More Blog Entries:
Dangerous Role Models: The Drunk Driving Problem in the NFL, June 3, 2014, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog