Family sues NFL in crash that left girl paralyzed

Updated: October 10, 2003, 8:03 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. -- The parents of a girl paralyzed in an accident caused by a drunken football fan sued the NFL, contending the league should be held responsible for the girl's injuries.

The lawsuit says the league promotes the kind of behavior that led the fan to drink 14 beers at a New York Giants game in 1999 and then drive home.

Ronald and Fazila Verni of Cliffside Park initially filed their suit in 2001, but it was refiled Thursday in Hackensack to include the NFL and commissioner Paul Tagliabue as defendants.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit and declined comment. Paul Soderman, a lawyer for the Giants, said the team is not responsible.

"There really is no liability on behalf of the Giants or the sports authority, even for something as horrific as this," Soderman said. "Everybody feels badly about it, but that doesn't translate into liability."

The Vernis' daughter, Antonia, was 2 years old at the time of the accident. She was paralyzed from the neck down in the accident, remains on a ventilator and is not expected to regain use of her arms and legs, the family's lawyer said.

The family was headed home from a pumpkin-picking trip in 1999 when their car and a truck driven by Daniel Lanzaro, 34, of Cresskill, collided in Hasbrouck Heights. Lanzaro's blood-alcohol content was 0.26, nearly three times the legal limit in New Jersey. He was sentenced this summer to five years in prison.

Rosemarie Arnold, the Vernis' attorney, said the league and the team encourage excessive alcohol use before and during NFL games.

"What they do is promote the concept that you can't have fun at a football game unless you're drunk," she said. "Giants Stadium opens four hours before a game. Why? So people can tailgate. The notion of the game is, if you're drunk, you're going to have a good time. Then you leave in your car and drive home."

Besides the NFL, defendants include Lanzaro, the Giants, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Giants Stadium and Aramark, a company that sells concessions at the stadium. A message left with the sports authority was not immediately returned Friday.

Arnold said the NFL was not initially named as a defendant because the family had to wait for Lanzaro's sentencing before their attorneys could interview him about his conduct at the game.

The NFL forbids beer sales after the third quarter, and the Giants go a step further by shutting down beer vendors at the start of the third quarter. The stadium also mandates that fans can buy only two beers at a time, but Arnold said Lanzaro gave the vendor a $10 tip and was allowed to buy six beers.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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