New Mexico Supreme Court rules gas stations can be liable for DUIs
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Monday that gas stations in the state could be held liable for selling fuel to drunk drivers. Tennessee was the first.
The verdict came after the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed to hear a federal appeals court motion to clarify a state legal issue regarding the possible liability of a retailer who sold gasoline to a drunk driver in 2011 when the driver crossed the center line and hit an oncoming one Vehicle collapsed and killed its occupant.
The drunk driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.176 - more than double the New Mexico legal limit (0.08) - and was arrested for alcohol driving, homicides, and left-of-center driving, according to the case summary in The Court's judgment, where only one other state - Tennessee - was found to apply the law to require companies to have a "duty of care" that will not provide fuel to drunk drivers because they can drive drunk.
Although New Mexico has no law that specifically prohibits the sale of gasoline or auto parts to a drunk (or otherwise incapacitated) customer, the ruling sets a precedent under the doctrine of negligent entrustment that covers the responsibilities of owners of potentially dangerous goods only to deliver them to someone qualified to use them safely.
While New Mexico has no law banning the sale of gasoline to drunk drivers, the majority in the court wrote that the duty not to sell gasoline to a drunk person related to liability for the supply of alcohol or a vehicle that person is compatible, and the latter has in the past been recognized by state courts.
In her dissenting opinion, the now retired judge Barbara Vigil wrote that the sale or serving of alcohol is regulated and that laws do not justify extending liability for intoxicated driving to retail sales of alcohol-free goods. She stated that "this fundamental change in the law could have far-reaching implications for retailers," hence the concern for mechanics, service departments and retail stores selling DIY parts.
Vigil also noted that there is little evidence of the extent to which retailers are responsible for investigating customer intoxication or whether that liability extends to self-service situations that would be much more difficult for employees to monitor.
This article contains coverage of the Associated Press.
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