New Mexico is one of several states that allows limited "dram shop" liability claims by an injured person after an alcohol-related accident. "Dram shop" laws can be used to hold an alcohol vendor liable for selling or serving alcohol to a person who causes injuries to someone else. In situations where a social host provides alcohol "recklessly" to a guest, the social host might also be held liable if the guest then injures someone else. Read on for the details on this kind of third-party liability after an alcohol-related accident in New Mexico.
Section 41-11-1 of the New Mexico Statutes Annotated contains the state's dram shop law. The statute allows an injured person to hold a licensed alcohol vendor liable if:
An intoxicated person cannot collect damages from a vendor who serves alcohol to that person, unless the service was "grossly negligent" or "reckless." However, a person injured by an intoxicated person may be able to seek damages from the vendor if the above conditions are met.
Here is an example of New Mexico's dram shop law in action: Suppose that Dale stops at Bill's Bar on his way home from work. He has several drinks and begins to slur his speech and have trouble walking. The bartender realizes Dale is drunk, but he continues to serve Dale alcohol anyway. Eventually, Dale attempts to leave the bar, but he stumbles and falls down the bar's front steps, colliding with Patty, who is standing at the bottom of the steps. Both Patty and Dale are injured in the accident.
Under New Mexico's dram shop law, Patty may seek damages from Bill's Bar for continuing to serve Dale even after it was "reasonably apparent" Dale was intoxicated. Dale may not seek dram shop damages from the bar unless he can demonstrate that by serving him alcohol, the bar demonstrated gross negligence or recklessness toward Dale's safety. That's a tough standard for Dale to meet, and from these facts, it doesn't appear that he would be able to meet it.
New Mexico also holds social hosts liable in some situations in which they provide alcohol to guests who then cause injury. Subsection (E) of New Mexico's dram shop law states that a social host may be held liable if "the alcoholic beverages were provided recklessly in disregard of the rights of others, including the social guest."
Here is a situation in which New Mexico's social host liability might apply. Suppose that in the example above, Dale goes to a party hosted by Hannah, a friend from work. At the party, Dale has several beers from a keg Hannah has provided for the occasion, as well as several strong mixed drinks. Although Hannah notices during the night that Dale has become extremely disoriented and is having trouble walking or talking clearly, she does not "cut him off" but instead continues to serve him drinks. Eventually, Dale tries to drive home. He runs the stop sign at the end of Hannah's block and collides with Pete, a pedestrian, causing serious injuries.
Pete can seek damages directly from Dale for causing the accident. Pete can also bring a social host liability claim against Hannah if he can demonstrate that Hannah provided alcohol to Dale "recklessly in disregard" of Dale's and Pete's rights.
Like other injury claims in New Mexico, a dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed in court within the time limit, or "statute of limitations," that applies to injury cases. A dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed within three years, or the court is almost certain to dismiss it.
Like other civil claims, liability in alcohol-related accident claims is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Common types of damages compensated for in successful dram shop or social host liability claims include damages for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
It's important to note here that New Mexico limits the amount of damages available in a dram shop or social host liability claim. The damage caps in these cases are $50,000 per person or $100,000 per accident for bodily injuries, and $20,000 per accident for property damage. Learn more about damages in a personal case.