New Mexico Holds Gas Stations Liable for DUIs

The state Supreme Court ruled gas stations have a legal obligation to not allow intoxicated drivers to get fuel.

July 21, 2021

Drunk Driver

SANTA FE, N.M.—The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that gasoline stations are legally required to keep intoxicated drivers from filling up, the Associated Press reports. The divided ruling could have a wide impact on businesses, even beyond fuel merchants, such as tire shops and auto-parts stores.

A federal appeals court asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to resolve whether state law related to potential liability of a gasoline retailer selling fuel to a drunken driver a decade ago. After buying fuel, the driver had a crash that resulted in someone’s death.

New Mexico courts have previously recognized the liability a vehicle’s owner shares if the owner allows an intoxicated driver to operate that vehicle. It was already illegal under state law to sell alcohol to an inebriated person or to supply them with a vehicle to drive.

While the state has no law on the books banning the sale of gasoline to inebriated drivers, the court’s majority said selling gas to intoxicated drivers is in line with lending such a driver a vehicle.

“Gasoline is required to operate most vehicles today. Providing gasoline to an intoxicated driver is like providing car keys to an intoxicated driver,” according to the court’s majority opinion in the case, Morris v. Giant Four Corners Inc.

Justice Barbara Vigil’s dissenting opinion centered around the fact that laws don’t extend liability for intoxicated driving to nonalcoholic retailer sales. The now-retired justice said that “this sea change in the law could have far-reaching consequences for retail businesses,” such as tire shops, mechanics and auto parts stores.

She also noted that the ruling leaves it murky as to how gas stations would determine intoxication of a particular driver, given how many motorists pay at the pump without interacting with an employee.

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