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Beer Pong Decision Bounces the Wrong Way for Bar Owners (NY)

August 25, 2011

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Beer pong is one of the many activities that college students participate in when they tell their parents that they are studying. But take the game away from college, and disaster can ensue, as seen in <a href="">Venito v. Salverson, et. al.</a>
Plaintiff Thomas Venito and defendant Mark Salverson were playing beer pong at KJ’s Ale House on Staten Island, and the two had an argument about the rules of the game. The bartender twice tried unsuccessfully to intervene. The argument then escalated into fight, which the bartender also could not stop, so he called 911. Salverson was arrested, convicted of misdemeanor assault, and served 60 days in jail. Plaintiff suffered facial and ankle fractures and sued Salverson and the bar.
The bar moved for summary judgment, claiming the responsibility for plaintiff’s injuries fell solely on defendant Salverson. The judge denied the motion, holding that a jury might find that staffing the bar with only one bartender was insufficient security over Memorial Day weekend. The court also pointed out that the bartenders multiple efforts to stop the dispute were ineffective, and a jury might find that he should have called 911 before things escalated. It therefore held there was an issue of fact as to the claims of negligent security, hiring, and training.
Interestingly, the court also found that plaintiff presented a prima facie case for liability under the Dram Shop. Plaintiff needed, in essence, to establish that the bar served alcohol to a knowingly intoxicated person. The court pointed out that, under any set of rules, the common objective of beer pong is the “copious consumption of alcoholic beverages.” The game encouraged excessive drinking at the bar, and the bar provided the alcohol to the participants. The court said that Salverson’s “aggression” was a common sense way for the bartender to observe visible evidence of intoxication.
It remains to be seen whether this decision stands up on appeal.
But I think one lesson learned is to agree on the rules before you play bar games.
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