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The Questions That Swirl Around Driving Drunk
Two things on drunk driving...
In the interests of full disclosure, I was once arrested for drunk driving in California. I was 21 and driving my way home from a bachelor party for a good friend. I pulled off the highway near Novato, California, and was about 5 minutes from home when I was pulled over and stopped. I was given a roadside sobriety test. With this test, they determined I was over the legal limit. At that time, the legal blood alcohol limit was .10. I was taken to the police station where I was offered the choice between a breath test and a blood test. I choose blood. They drew the blood into a glass capsule and then proceeded to drop it on the floor, breaking the sample. It was a good half hour before they took a second sample. When the results came back I was at .08., below the legal limit. However, they charged me nonetheless because they figured that my blood alcohol was higher when I was pulled over.
It resulted in a 1-year suspended license, a $1,500 fine, and a requirement that I attend 8 sessions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
So that’s my story about drunk driving. Here’s this…
Washington State is on course to become the second state to pass a law lowering the blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05. Utah passed the same .05 limit a couple of years ago. To put it another way, since the National Traffic and Safety Board (NTSB) recommended a move from .08 to .05 blood alcohol level back in 2013, one state has taken that recommendation and it appears one state is near the verge of doing so.
Is it a good idea? That depends on who you talk to. The NTSB says the change will save lives. However, the hospitality industry says it will kill jobs when you consider that far less alcohol will be purchased at restaurants and bars.
Utah is an outlier on alcohol issues. It’s the “conspiracy cousin” of alcohol policy. The strange-uncle-who-might-grope-his niece-at-Thanksgiving of alcohol policy. But not Washington State. Washington State is fairly liberal on alcohol issues despite it not allowing consumers to receive wine shipments from out-of-state wine retailers. My point is this: Utah has not done much to influence other states to lower their blood alcohol limit. Passage of SB 5002 with its .05 blood alcohol limit WILL have an influence on other states. We don’t know yet if the bill will pass. But my guess is it’s at least 50/50.
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Meanwhile, a panel of judges in Colorado has ruled, “A [liquor store] vendor's civil liability requires a showing that the intoxication of the person causing injury was 'due to the sale ... of any alcoholic beverage to the person.”
Put another way, if a person who is intoxicated walks into a liquor store, buys a 12-pack of beer and a bottle of tequila, then gets in their car and proceeds to get in an accident killing or harming folks in another car, the liquor store is not held liable because they did not sell the drunk driver the alcohol that made them drunk.
To quote from Law360’s story::
“A Colorado appellate panel ruled Thursday that a liquor store that sold alcohol to a drunk driver, who then killed a couple in a car accident but had not yet drunk the alcohol the store sold her, is not liable for the fatal crash, finding no causal connection between the sale and the collision.
"We conclude that the statutory language is unambiguous and that it requires a showing that the driver who caused the injury could have become intoxicated due to the vendor's sale of alcohol to her," wrote Judge JoAnn L. Vogt, penning the opinion for the three-judge panel.
The case revolves around Breckenridge Market & Liquor sale of a 12-pack of beer and a bottle of tequila to Lindsey Ward, who store employees noticed was visibly intoxicated. Ward then went on to crash in a car, killing Benjamin Mitton and Nichole Gough. The drinks the liquor store sold Ward were found in her car unopened.
Family members sued Ward, now in prison, the restaurant where she was drinking before she bought the beer and tequila, and the liquor store. They resolved their claims against ward and the restaurant, leaving only their claims against the liquor store under the Colorado Dram Shop Act…
The family members argued in their appeal that the law was ambiguous and only required that plaintiffs suing alcohol vendors show that they were injured by a drunk person and that the seller provided alcohol to the drunk person.
But the panel was unmoved, siding with the trial judge's interpretation.
Of course, the panel of judges at the Colorado Court of Appeals was unmoved. Consider the implications of a ruling that a store or bar need not sell the drunkard the alcohol that made them drunk in order to hold that bar or store responsible for the accident caused by the drunkard. The liquor store that was the successful defendant in the case surely considered the implications when its owner raised their hands, shrugged their shoulders, and rightly said, “But we didn’t do a single thing?” And of course, they are right.