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Third-Party Liability for Serving Alcohol to Intoxicated Individuals in New Mexico

Posted in Drunk Driving

Many states impose liability on individuals who provide or serve alcohol to an intoxicated person when that person goes on to cause an accident or injury. This liability is normally outlined in a state’s “dram shop” law.

New Mexico’s dram shop law allows an injured person to hold an alcohol vendor liable for injuries in certain circumstances. Normally, a dram shop law requires that a plaintiff prove that the vendor served or sold alcohol to a person who the vendor knew was drunk or when their intoxication was reasonably apparent. Generally, an injured party who was hurt by the intoxicated person in a New Mexico drunk driving accident can seek to impose liability on the vendor; however, the intoxicated person themselves cannot shift liability off themselves and onto a vendor unless the vendor acted grossly negligently or recklessly.

New Mexico’s dram shop statute also provides for recovery from social hosts in comparable situations. The statute applies to social hosts in instances in which the host served alcohol while recklessly disregarding the rights of others.

Interpreting New Mexico’s “Reasonably Apparent” Standard

The standards used to determine vendor and social-host liability have not always been straightforward, and they were often considered a subjective term that could result in drastically different outcomes for plaintiffs. Previously, New Mexico personal injury attorneys spent a significant amount of time arguing over whether the intoxication was reasonably apparent. However, a somewhat recent change in the law has resulted in more clarity in interpreting the standard and allowed plaintiffs more opportunity to recover in these situations.

The New Mexico Supreme Court, in Gutierrez v. Meteor Monument, has held that the standard is an objective one. Specifically, the court found that intoxication, in these cases, is visible, evident, and easily observed; therefore, a server under this definition would be able to recognize if a patron was intoxicated. Furthermore, the court found that there are many sources of circumstantial evidence that can be used to establish intoxication. Some of these are things such as the intoxicated person’s own testimony, the length of time the person was at the establishment, and observations of police officials.

State Supreme Court Finds that Genuine Issue of Material Fact Exists in Dram Shop Lawsuit

Recently, the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed a summary judgment decision in a personal injury case that concerned the state’s dram shop statute. The case stemmed from an accident that occurred in 2015 after a woman was involved in a drunk driving accident. According to the opinion, a woman went to a bar with several of her coworkers after work for approximately four hours. During her time there, she shared some food with her coworkers and drank three beers, but the size and percentage of alcohol in the drinks is unknown.

The woman was served all three rounds of drinks at a table that was serviced by the same server. Prior to leaving, the woman said she felt in control but admitted that she was buzzed. As the woman was driving home, she looked down at her cell phone and crashed into the vehicle in front of her, which was carrying a driver and two children. The officer who came to the accident site noted that the woman smelled like alcohol, was exhibiting signs of intoxication, failed sobriety tests, and had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

The Procedural Posture

Early the following year, the driver whom the woman hit filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and her children against the bar that served the woman the drinks, citing the state’s Dram Shop statute.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the bar, stating that the mere fact that the bar served her three or four drinks over the span of four hours does not lead to the conclusion that the establishment knew or should have known that the driver was intoxicated. The woman then appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Holding

The court looked at various factors in determining whether the bar knew or should have known that the woman was intoxicated when they were serving her the beers. In the end, the court found that looking at all of the evidence, such as the amount the woman consumed, when she consumed her last beer, the results of her sobriety test, and her testimony, there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the server could have reasonably known that she was intoxicated. Ultimately, the court found that since a genuine issue of material fact existed, the case should proceed to trial for a jury to make the ultimate determination.

Have You Been Injured by a Drunk Driver in New Mexico?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a New Mexico drunk driving accident, you should contact the Fine Law Firm to learn about your rights and the potential recourse you may have under dram shop laws. In certain instances, there can be more than one party that is liable for the injuries you have sustained. An attorney at the Fine Law Firm can help you pursue the compensation you deserve from all responsible parties. Contact the office at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Rental Car Company After Renter Is Involved in an Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 24, 2017.

Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Business in Recent Premises Liability Case, Citing Open and Obvious Danger, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2018.