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Liability alleged in lawsuit against stadium alcohol vendor

Any professional sports fan who attends games with regularity in Ohio or elsewhere knows that there is a fair amount of drinking that goes on at such contests.

The sheer extent of that imbibing might surprise most people, though. Researchers at one university tested fans leaving games. What they found was truly startling, namely this: Approximately eight percent of those tested were legally drunk, with blood alcohol levels above .08 percent. After calculating the size of a typical pro football stadium, the researchers concluded that, on average, about 5,000 departing fans would be flatly inebriated.

Sadly, many of those people drive home.

A recent media article chronicles what happened outside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indiana following an Indianapolis Colts game in December 2010. A game attendee driving home struck two girls walking on the side of a road, killing one of them. His blood alcohol level tested out at 0.15, far exceeding the legal threshold for drunk driving. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony charge.

The girl’s mother has taken aggressive action in the aftermath of her family’s tragedy, highlighting stadium behavior of alcohol vendors that she says raises issues of premises liability.

Specifically, she is targeting Centerplate, a food and beverage vendor that operates widely in pro sports venues across the country, suing it under a dram shop liability law. The mother’s case has been dismissed by a state judge, but she is appealing.

A central issue is the business model employed by Centerplate, which predominantly uses local volunteers to sell alcohol, with the groups to which those volunteers belong -- often youth sports groups, church organizations and Scout troops -- being allowed to retain a percentage of earning on each alcoholic beverage sold.

Although many people support that model, the lawsuit contends that it is irresponsible, given that there is a strong financial incentive to sell as much alcohol as possible.

One professor of hospitality law commenting on the matter calls it “a classic case where a business puts money before the safety and welfare of people.”

Source: USA TODAY, "Grieving mom takes on stadium vendor over beer sales," Vic Ryckaert, Dec. 22, 2013

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