Move over NFL, NBA, WNBA and NHL. A new betting line may soon take over Vegas sports lounges. That new "sport" in town, NDPL, is becoming increasingly popular on the courts. Strike that, make it "in the courts." The NDPL, National Deep Pockets League, has lawyers and plaintiffs racing to Americas courthouses to file lawsuits in an attempt to score big payouts against deep pockets, with the NFL becoming the most recent opponent of the NDPL.
Contending that the NFL promotes the kind of behavior that led a fan to drink 14 beers at a New York Giants game in 1999 and then drive home, a lawsuit was amended this week to include the NFL and commissioner Paul Tagliabue as defendants.
The facts are indisputably sad and unfortunate. Antonia Verni, then 2, now 6, was heading home with her family from a pumpkin picking trip when their car was hit by a truck driven by the fan who had just left the Giants game. Antonia suffered spinal cord injuries and is paralyzed from the neck down. It was later found that the drivers blood alcohol level exceeded two and a half times the legal limit in New Jersey. With the drunk driver behind bars serving a five-year prison sentence, the family is now suing the NFL in search of someone else to pay for their misfortune.
Plaintiffs attorneys argue that the events were foreseeable. But, lets be honest. How foreseeable is it that a concessionaire like the one involved here would risk his job to let some fan buy as many beers as he wants, all for a $10 tip? And how foreseeable is it that this same fan would purchase and consume marijuana in stadium, as he later admitted to doing?
Risk-reduction mechanisms already exist for these sporting events. The NFL forbids beer sales after the third quarter Giants Stadium actually stops sales at the start of the third quarter. Giants Stadium has a two-beer at-a-time limit. Yet, plaintiffs attorneys argue that the NFL and Giants did a poor job of policing alcohol and drug abuse.
Generally, imposition of liability requires that the party charged be both a cause in fact (a "but for" cause) and a legal ("proximate") cause of the resulting event. Tremendous uncertainty exists today in our courts regarding whether and to what extent liability should be apportioned in any circumstance where one person is being held legally responsible for harm directly caused by the conduct of another. Under many states dram shop laws, the provider must have engaged in wrongful conduct providing alcoholic beverages in circumstances where it is apparent to the provider at the time the alcohol is provided, sold or served that the person consuming the alcohol is obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presents a clear danger to himself and others. Fewer states have been willing to legislatively extend dram shop laws to impose unlimited liability upon a social host for the acts of an intoxicated adult guest.
An innocent victim of a judgment-proof drunk driver should not be able to shift blame to a third party who happens to have deep pockets but lacks a causal relationship to the event. While compensation of innocent victims and deterrence of drunk driving may be laudable objectives, holding the host or sponsor liable only further insulates the wrongdoer from personal liability for his acts while intoxicated, perpetuating our societys trend of absolving personal responsibility.
This is not a matter for courts to undertake lightly. The prevention of highway injuries and deaths due to alcohol is a complex problem. The solution is not, however, to impose liability on a third party who does not control the source of the alcohol. If the plaintiffs in this case are successful in shifting liability to the deep-pocketed NFL and Giants, it spells defeat for most social and sporting events where alcohol is served, including your local charity wine tasting events.October 16, 2003
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