New Mexico Supreme Court rules gas stations are liable for selling fuel to intoxicated people

gas station
A man fills up a car at a filling station.

  • New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled gas stations are obligated not to sell fuel to intoxicated drivers.
  • In its ruling, the court said one other US state – Tennessee – has a similar rule for fuel stations.
  • The ruling could reach beyond gas stations, extending to merchants like auto parts stores.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Gas stations have a legal obligation not to sell fuel to drivers who are believed to be intoxicated, the New Mexico Supreme Court said Monday in a decision that could have far-reaching effects on businesses and that only one other state applies so strictly.

The divided court outlined a precedent-setting ruling that raises the implication that not only gasoline merchants but other types of businesses – from auto parts stores and tire shops to mechanics – could be on the hook for ensuring they don’t sell products to people who then drive drunk.

The decision notes that only one other state – Tennessee – applies the law in such a way to create a “duty of care” for businesses to refrain from supplying fuel to drunken drivers because of the risk of driving while intoxicated.

The ruling came in response to a request from a federal appeals court to resolve a question of state law concerning the potential liability of a retailer that sold gasoline to an intoxicated driver in 2011. After refueling and returning to the highway, that driver crossed the center line and crashed into an oncoming vehicle, killing a person.

Under the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment, the owners of potentially dangerous goods have a responsibility to supply those goods only to someone competent to safely use them. New Mexico courts have recognized in past decisions that the owner of a vehicle who entrusts an intoxicated person to drive it may be liable for injuries caused by the drunken driving.

While New Mexico has no law that would prohibit the sale of gasoline to intoxicated drivers, the court’s majority wrote that a duty not to sell gasoline to someone who is drunk is consistent with liability for giving that person alcohol or 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,” the majority wrote.

The court reviewed past legal precedents, statutes, and other principles of law in reaching its decision. The majority noted that the New Mexico Legislature this year prohibited the sale of hard liquor at convenience store gas stations in one county.

State law also holds businesses and others liable for selling or serving alcohol to intoxicated people.
In her dissenting opinion, now-retired Justice Barbara Vigil wrote that selling or serving alcohol is regulated and that laws don’t warrant extending liability for drunken driving to retail sales of nonalcoholic goods.

She noted that “this sea change in the law could have far-reaching consequences for retail businesses” – from auto parts stores and tire shops to mechanics and others who will be left guessing as to whether they are subject to the new duty.

Vigil added that it’s unclear how much investigation gas stations will have to do to determine whether a person may be intoxicated when trying to refuel a vehicle, particularly when many drivers pay at the pump rather than dealing with a worker inside.

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Kansas Senate Majority Leader was arrested on suspicion of DUI after 911 callers said he drove the wrong way down a highway. A judge released him and said there wasn’t ‘probable cause.’

Gene Suellentrop
Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop seen here in a 2015 photo.

  • Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Sullentrop was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
  • A judge granted his release from jail, saying police had no “probable cause to support” his arrest.
  • Multiple 911 callers reported he was driving the wrong way on a highway, local news media said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Sullentrop, a top Republican lawmakers in the state, on Tuesday was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence but was soon released from jail after a judge said she believed police didn’t have probable cause to make the arrest.

Audio released Tuesday by the Shawnee County Dispatch and published by the local news outlet KSNT-TV showed several people called 911 to report they saw a white SUV driving west in the eastbound lanes of I-470 and eventually driving on I-70 around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, local media outlets reported.

“They about hit me, but I’m OK. I’m fine,” one person said in the 911 call.

The Kansas Highway Patrol arrested Suellentrop, 68, in downtown Topeka after “a short pursuit” in which officers discussed using stop-spikes on his SUV to slow down the vehicle, according to police audio published by KSNT.

He faced charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, fleeing or attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer, speeding, and improperly crossing a divided highway, according to an arrest record published by the Shawnee County Adult Detention Center.

Gene Suellentrop
This photo provided by the Shawnee County Jail in Topeka, Kan., shows Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, after being booked for an arrest, Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The KHP did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Sullentrop was released from jail Tuesday morning, hours after he was arrested, by a judge who said he believed police did not have enough evidence to make the arrest.

“At this time, I do not find probable cause to support your arrest and detention based upon failure to include some pertinent information within in that law enforcement officer report,” Shawnee County District Court Judge Penny Moylan said during the hearing, according to KSNT. “As such, you’re going to be released at this time.”

Representatives for the KHP told the outlet it planned to submit a more in-depth report on the arrest, though it did not give a timeframe for that.

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson and Vice President Rick Wilborn, both Republicans, released a statement Tuesday about Sullentop’s arrest and subsequent release from jail.

“This morning, we all learned that Senator Suellentrop had been arrested and subsequently released without charges,” the statement read. “The underlying incident is certainly serious and very unfortunate. We will continue to pray for Gene and his family as we gather more information. The Senate continues to do our work on behalf of the people of Kansas.”

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat told reporters she expected this to “come back up again.”

“I don’t really want to comment on Sen. Suellentrop, but if you look at what the judge did, that’s pretty typical at a first hearing. If the paperwork is essentially not completed, and you look at the timeframe, I don’t think there was enough time to get all that paperwork done,” she said.

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