Pierson v. Service America Corp. – Sport Stadiums and Dram Shop Laws

It’s a well-established fact that incidents of drunk driving spike anytime there is a sizable sporting event.
Every time the Super Bowl rolls around, you are likely reminded of all the ways in which to be a responsible social host and to always designate a sober driver. Drunk driving crashes that do result in injury or death often end in a civil case, sometimes against the party who served alcohol.

These are called Dram Shop cases, and our Rock Hill drunk driving accident lawyers are familiar with many that have been filed against bars, liquor stores and even parents who allowed teens to drink in their homes. However, the recent case of Pierson v. Service America Corp. involves a sports stadium beer vendor. The vendor is based in South Carolina, but conducts business at stadiums all over the country, including for one in Indiana, where the Pierson case was filed. The developments are being closely monitored by those in the business of selling booze to sports fans.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has cleared plaintiffs to proceed with their claim in a 3-0 decision that reverses the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defense.

This case involves the tragic death of one 12-year-old girl and the serious injury of her cousin, also 12. The girls were walking along a side street in Indianapolis one evening around 6 p.m. when they were struck by a man whose blood-alcohol level measured 0.205 percent – well above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Authorities learned the driver attended a football game earlier in the day. According to his own testimony, he began drinking beer around noon that day while at a tailgating party. By the time the game started, he estimated he’d already consumed four beers.

Throughout the course of the 3.5-hour game, he estimated he drank about five beers, all of which would have had to have been served by the volunteers who worked with the defendant, as there was only one provider of alcohol at the stadium.

He left the stadium after the game ended, sometime around 4:30 p.m., and attended a post-game tailgating party. There, he estimates he consumed about three beers.

The driver pleaded guilty criminal charges against him, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In the civil case, the defense moved for – and initially was granted – summary judgment on the grounds that the beer was served by an unknown volunteer server or servers. Despite a long investigation into the matter, it could not be determined who the actual persons were who exchanged money for booze with the driver at the stadium. It was on this basis the trial court agreed to dismiss the case.

However, the family of the girl who was killed appealed, arguing that for the purposes of the state’s Dram Shop laws, the vendor could be considered a “person,” as it had hundreds of agents facilitating alcohol sales throughout the duration of the game.

The appellate court agreed.

This does not mean the family has yet won the case. They will still need to prove the vendor was liable in failing to properly train its agents or monitor its alcohol sales. It seems at this point, however, they will have their day in court to do so.

Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Pierson v. Service America Corp., May 21, 2014, Court of Appeals of Indiana

More Blog Entries:
Sholberg v. Truman – Car Accidents Involving Large Animals, June 19, 2014, Rock Hill Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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