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Ruling May Affect Team Policies

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 22, 2005; Page D03

Professional sports teams and their stadium and arena vendors might have to review their alcohol-related policies in the aftermath of a New Jersey jury this week awarding $135 million to the family of a girl paralyzed in a 1999 automobile accident caused by a drunk driver following a New York Giants football game.

The jury awarded $60 million in compensatory damages Tuesday and $75 million in punitive damages Wednesday to Ronald and Fazila Verni. Their 7-year-old daughter, Antonia, was paralyzed from the neck down in the crash and requires constant care.

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The jury assessed the punitive damages against the team's concessionaire at Giants Stadium, Aramark Corp., and split the liability for the compensatory damages evenly between the company and the driver who caused the accident, David Lanzaro. He reportedly had a blood-alcohol level more than double the legal limit at the time of the accident and is serving a five-year jail sentence for vehicular assault. Philadelphia-based Aramark is appealing.

A judge previously dismissed the family's lawsuits against the NFL, the Giants and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

An NFL spokesman declined to comment to the Associated Press about the jury's decision, except to say that the league regularly reviews its policies and will continue to do so. The league prohibits beer sales after the third quarter of games. The Giants reportedly cut off beer sales at the beginning of the third quarter and the stadium prohibits customers from buying more than two beers at a time. But Lanzaro reportedly bought six beers at once by tipping his vendor $10.

The Giants issued a written statement that said: "No words can express the sorrow we feel for what the Verni family has gone through. We believe that Aramark has the right alcohol policies in place and will take the necessary and appropriate steps to enforce those policies."

Ronald Verni said of his daughter at a news conference following the jury's award: "Hopefully, she'll be able to get the care she needs and deserves. Hopefully she'll be able to enjoy some of the things she wouldn't have been able to enjoy."

Singletary Joins 49ers

Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary was hired yesterday to be the San Francisco 49ers' assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

Singletary, who spent 12 NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears, spent the last two seasons as a linebackers coach with the Baltimore Ravens in his first coaching job. He worked closely with Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who was named the 49ers' coach on Wednesday.

Singletary, 46, was named the NFL's top defensive player in 1985 and 1988. . . .

Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour will not start in tomorrow's AFC title game against Pittsburgh because of a left knee injury, though might play as a substitute. . . .

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed safety Nick Sorensen to a multiyear contract extension and added free agent wide receiver Chris Cole.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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