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Could gas stations be held accountable for drunk driving?


Dram shop liability laws penalize those who provide alcohol to a customer under the influence of alcohol, resulting in that individual causing a severe motor vehicle accident. When they started to become the law of the land, it was focused on bars and restaurants that overserved a noticeably intoxicated patron, only to be held legally liable for those actions.

A new type of accountability for certain business owners

Access to alcoholic beverages is not exclusive to establishments that serve food and liquor. Gas stations also feature an array of beer, wine, and other intoxicants. The only difference is that they sell fuel. A ruling in the New Mexico Supreme Court could be far-reaching. It could lead to California and other states placing legal obligations on gas stations that sell not just liquor but also fuel to noticeably drunk drivers who then get behind the wheel of a car.

California’s dram shop law provides the option for an accident victim injured by an intoxicated individual to pursue damages from the vendor who sold alcohol to them. Specific circumstances are limited and include sales to minors who are “visibly intoxicated” and alcohol as the direct cause of injuries.

Could gas stations be next in the Golden State? As with other areas of the country – save for New Jersey and Oregon –  California has self-service locations where contact with an employee is minimal. The staff behind a counter watching live security footage would likely find it challenging to identify if someone pumping gas is inebriated. Owners would have to find other methods to ramp up detection.

Business owners in any industry have an obligation to ensure that visibly drunk people should not get behind the wheel of a car when leaving their establishment. Falling short of that obligation, regardless of what was purchased, could lead to tragic consequences.