Pierson v. Service America Corp. – Sports Game Beer Vendor Faces Dram Shop Liability

In Alabama drunk driving injury cases, it is the intoxicated driver and/or his insurer who will be responsible for compensating victims. However, under some circumstances, the person who served the alcohol to that driver prior to the crash might also be held legally responsible.

The statutes that govern these matters are called Dram Shop Laws, and they vary from state-to-state. Montgomery drunk driving accident lawyers are familiar with the governing statute in this state, codified in Ala. Code 6-5-71, which holds qualified parties may seek damages from the person’s who furnished alcohol to a person who causes a traffic collision.

Typically, this might involve parents who host alcohol-fueled parties for teens or bartenders/bar owners who continue to serve obviously-drunk patrons. But recently, a case before the Indiana Court of Appeals may set a precedent that could also see liability imposed on beer vendors at sports stadiums.

While Pierson v. Service America Corp. is an out-of-state case, it involves a vendor that operates as the exclusive seller at dozens sports stadiums both in the U.S. and internationally. Many alcohol vendors are paying attention, and it’s likely that, at the very least, this firm could change its policies depending on the outcome of the case.

Consider that a 2011 study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that approximately 8 percent of sports fans leaving professional football and baseball games had blood-alcohol levels that exceeded the legal limit. That’s roughly 5,000 fans in a typical NFL game.

The background of the case starts with a Colts football game in 2010. One fan in particular imbibed a great deal that day. Based on witness statements, toxicology testing and even his own testimony, it was concluded that he consumed numerous beers at three different locations throughout the day: At a tailgate party prior to the game, inside the stadium and then more at a post-game tailgate party.

Shortly after leaving that post-game party, he turned down a side street and struck two 12-year-old cousins as they were walking home around 6 p.m. One of the girls was killed. The other was seriously injured.

The 31-year-old driver would later register a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit. He was convicted of felony drunk driving charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Following the conclusion of the criminal case, the mother of the deceased girl filed a lawsuit against the exclusive beer vendor at the game that day, asserting liability under the state’s Dram Shop Law.

The vendor argued it could not be liable because those serving the alcohol were volunteers. Despite an extensive investigation, the volunteer or volunteers who sold alcohol to the fan could not be located. Therefore, there was no evidence that any employee or designee had served alcohol to this man while he was visibly intoxicated. Further, it was argued there was no evidence that it was the alcohol provided at the game (as opposed to the pre- or post-game parties) that was the proximate cause of the crash.

The trial court agreed, but the ruling was reversed on appeal.

The court sided with the plaintiff, who argued that despite the identify of the server remaining a mystery, a reasonable inference could be drawn, based on all the facts, that the fan would have exhibited visible signs of intoxication while at the stadium, and therefore, the volunteers had a duty not to serve him. Further, the plaintiff argued – and the appellate court agreed – the vendor was responsible for the actions of its agents.

Thus, the appellate court remanded the case back to trial court for further proceedings.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Pierson v. Service America Corp., May 21, 2014, Indiana Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Alabama Motorcycle Deaths Fall – Officials Warn Against Complacency, May 20, 2014, Montgomery Injury Lawyer Blog

Contact Information