The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that gas stations have a legal duty not to sell gasoline to intoxicated drivers. Gas stations that do sell fuel to a driver who is intoxicated could be held liable under the law.
"A duty not to sell gasoline to an intoxicated person is consistent with liability for providing an intoxicated person with alcohol or a vehicle," Justice C. Shannon Bacon wrote in the majority opinion. "Gasoline, alcohol, and the vehicle itself are all enabling instrumentalities involved in intoxicated driving. Gasoline is required to operate most vehicles today. 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 decision stems from a 2011 case in which a drunk driver was involved in a fatal crash after leaving a gas station. Shortly after leaving the station, the driver swerved onto the wrong side of the highway and killed another driver. Three hours after the crash, the driver's blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit.
The ruling did leave several questions unanswered about a gas station's legal duty. It did not define what efforts a station attendant must take to determine if a driver is drunk, especially when the driver pays directly at the pump. The court said that those determinations must be made by a jury in individual cases.
Only one other state, Tennessee, holds gas station attendants liable for selling gas to drunk drivers.