The state Supreme Court ruled 3-1 on July 19 that while no law prevents the sale of gas to a drunken driver, vendors have a legal responsibility not to sell to someone who is drunk. Tennessee is the only other state to place the liability on filling stations, the court noted.
"Providing gasoline to an intoxicated driver is like providing car keys to an intoxicated driver. Accordingly, liability under negligent entrustment for the sale of gasoline to an intoxicated driver is consistent with New Mexico law," the judges wrote in their opinion.
The ruling was made after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear a request from a federal appeals court regarding the liability of a filling station retailer that sold fuel to an intoxicated driver in 2011, according to Access WDUN.
After leaving a gas station and returning to a highway, the driver crossed the center line and crashed into an oncoming car, the outlet said. The driver had a blood alcohol content level of 0.176, which was more than double the legal limit of 0.08 in the state, the report added.
Now-retired Justice Barbara Vigil, who disagreed with the majority, wrote in her dissenting opinion that "this sea change in the law could have far-reaching consequences for retail businesses." She argued that the sale and serving of alcohol are already regulated and that the law does not warrant extending liability for intoxicated driving to retail sales of nonalcoholic items.
Vigil also said there is a lack of established guidelines as to how retailers should investigate a supposed drunken customer or whether the liability would extend to self-service stations.
Doug Kantor, general counsel for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said the Supreme Court "overreached to make a new rule in New Mexico," according to an interview with nongovernmental organization Pew Trusts.
"There are clear laws about age restrictions. You've got to make sure someone is old enough to sell them alcohol or tobacco," Kantor said. "But store clerks who sell gas just aren't in a position to police whether people have been drinking or not or whether their mental state is impaired or not."
Kantor said he hopes the state's courts will recognize the 2011 incident as an unusual case and that the state Legislature will make changes to the rule where necessary.
Every day, 29 people in the United States die in vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, and the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Original Author: Kaelan Deese