Can Someone Be Held Liable for Selling Gasoline to Obviously Intoxicated Drivers in NM?

Lady with broken arm signing document after car accident

While it’s well-established that it’s against the law to drive while under the influence of alcohol, what about those who supply gasoline to obviously intoxicated drivers? Does a gas station have a duty to protect third parties from drunk drivers by refraining from selling them gasoline? Under a more recent New Mexico Supreme Court case it has been established that they do, in fact, have such a duty and can therefore be held liable when someone is injured as a result. 

Morris v. Giant Four Corners, Inc.

In Morris v. Giant Four Corners, Inc., two intoxicated individuals entered a gas station and proceeded to empty a gallon of water in order to fill it with gas instead. Initially, the clerk refused to sell them the gas but eventually gave in and allowed them to purchase the gallon of gas. They later walked back to their vehicle, which was not located at the gas station. They then returned to the gas station and purchased more gas. The driver later had a head-on collision with another vehicle, which resulted in the death of that vehicle’s driver. 

There was no exclusive law pertaining to the sale of gasoline to an obviously intoxicated person. Therefore, in a lawsuit filed in federal court, New Mexico’s doctrine of negligent entrustment of chattel property was used. Under this doctrine, an owner or controller of property other than land or real estate (chattel), has “a duty to others not to give control of a dangerous instrumentality to a person incapable of using it carefully.” The case was ultimately sent to the New Mexico Supreme Court for a ruling. 

Considering Negligence

The main factor in negligent entrustment of chattel is negligence. Under previous auto cases, it has been ruled negligence for the owner of a vehicle to allow someone he or she knows to be drunk, reckless, or in another way incompetent to operate the vehicle. And under dram shop laws, bars are prohibited from serving obviously intoxicated patrons – as are hosts of parties with alcohol. 

It should be noted that there is no obligation to prove that a customer/patron is, in fact, intoxicated. It is enough to decipher from their actions that someone is drunk. Similar to bartenders, waitstaff, or party hosts, it will depend upon whether those in charge knew or should have known that the individual was intoxicated. Therefore, if a gas station clerk sells gasoline to someone whom he or she knew or should have known was intoxicated, he or she can be held liable. 

MPJ Law Firm Can Help Those in NM Who Have Been Injured in an Accident

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, it can greatly impact your life. It can be difficult enough to deal with your injuries, but it can be even harder when you are left to pick up the pieces financially. You should never have to pay the price for someone else’s mistakes. 

At MPJ Law Firm, we have a deep understanding of car accidents and understand the effects that such accidents often have on just about all aspects of your life. We will always act in your best interest. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

Posted in: Automobile Accidents, Personal Injury