When testimony about a "culture of intoxication" at Giants Stadium led to a $110 million jury award for a drunk-driving victim, the verdict made headlines nationwide. Victims'-rights advocates praised the court for holding alcohol vendors accountable for the actions of drunk patrons while defense attorneys criticized its expansive interpretation of state dram-shop law.
In February 2007, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court sent the case back to the superior court for a new trial, denying cert in Verni v. Harry M. Stevens of New Jersey, which was on appeal from the New Jersey appellate division. The appeals court in August 2006 threw out the superior court's verdict and ordered a retrial, citing multiple prejudicial errors by the trial judge.
HMS and Aramark appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division, which found the Verni trial was riddled with errors that led to the huge award. For example, the trial judge erred by instructing jurors they could consider Antonia's reduced life expectancy when calculating quality-of-life damages. He also erred by not allowing jurors to factor settlements the plaintiff reached with other defendants into the final damage award. But the most important error, which prejudiced the jury and invalidated the verdict, occurred in two parts.
First, at the outset of the trial, the court had not determined whether Aramark was protected under the state BSA as an agent of HMS, which held the liquor license for Giants Stadium. Therefore the court allowed testimony about the stadium's rowdy environment, which would have been admissible if Aramark was subject to common law negligence, but was inadmissible under the BSA.