New Mexico Makes Gas Stations Liable For Drunk Drivers

Industry News / 26 Comments

It's the second state to do so.

Many states have laws on the books about bartenders or bar owners serving alcohol to someone who's visibly impaired. There are different rules for different jurisdictions, but generally if the patron is served when drunk, and gets in an accident, the bar can be held liable. Only one state has the same rule for gas station attendants, Tennessee. That was until Monday when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that service stations can now be liable for intoxicated drivers.

The case came from a federal appeals court to New Mexico, because of case of a drunk driver in 2011. The driver came to the station for gas, but it had no gas cans to sell. He then purchased a gallon of water, emptied it, filling it with gas. He came back later and filled up his car, before dropping off his passenger. He then entered the highway, crossed the center lane and crashed, killing the occupant of the opposing vehicle.

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There is no law in the state preventing the sale of auto parts or gasoline to an incapacitated customer, Autoblog reports, but the ruling now sets a precedent for owners selling dangerous goods to someone who might be drunk. The driver in this case ended up with a blood alcohol level of 0.176, more than double the legal limit in that state.

He was arrested for driving while under the influence, vehicular homicide, and driving left of center, according to the case. The court wrote after a lengthy decision that "based on these considerations, we conclude that the sale of gasoline is not precluded by other policy considerations from the doctrine of negligent entrustment of chattel as recognized in New Mexico. Vendors of gasoline have a duty to refrain from supplying gasoline to a driver the vendor knows or has reason to know is intoxicated."

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There are certainly issues with this ruling. A dissenting judge wrote that "the public policy of New Mexico does not call for encumbering vendors of nonalcoholic chattel with a duty not to sell in order to prevent DWI. While the sale and service of alcohol is regulated, neither our common law nor our statutes warrant extending liability for DWI to retail sales of nonalcoholic goods. In fact, our dramshop statute narrows, rather than expands, alcohol servers' common law third-party liability."

We'll be interested to see if other states follow Tennessee and New Mexico's lead. At some point in the future these incidents will be avoided through autonomous driving, just not yet, Tesla Model S, Cadillac Super Cruise and Ford BlueCruise owners.

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Source Credits: Autoblog

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