Drug Companies Liable For Fatal DWI Crash

A drunk driver caused a New Mexico car accident on Interstate 25.  A child died.  The child’s mother filed dramshop claims for wrongful death and personal injuries against three liquor establishments.  She also filed wrongful death and personal injury claims against three drug companies.  Drug company employees had treated the drunk driver to eight hours of free drinks. 

In the early evening of April 29, 2005. a mother was driving southbound on Interstate 25 in Albuquerque with her three young children.  An SUV was speeding southbound at a speed in excess of ninety miles per hour.  The SUV collided with the rear of the mother’s vehicle.  Her seven year old child suffered fatal injuries.  The mother and two other children suffered serious injuries. 

The SUV driver was arrested after leaving the scene of the accident.  A test for alcohol showed that she had a blood-alcohol concentration of .21.  That was more than two and a half times greater than the DWI level of .08.  The driver was later convicted of aggravated DWI, leaving the scene, and fatal child abuse.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction for fatal child abuse.  The court noted that the driver could have been prosecuted for vehicular homicide.

The driver had spent the afternoon drinking alcohol in a restaurant and two bars in the Northeast Heights.  Pharmaceutical company employees had invited the employees of an Albuquerque doctor’s office to lunch.  The lunch included alcohol.  After lunch, the hosts and the driver spent the rest of the afternoon drinking in two bars in Uptown.  When the driver left the second bar, she was “thoroughly intoxicated.” 

The mother made claims for wrongful death and personal injuries against the restaurant and the two bars where the driver had spent the afternoon drinking.  The mother also made claims against the pharmaceutical companies and their employees who had sponsored the lunch and the drinking.  The trial court dismissed the claims against the pharmaceutical companies and their employees under the Liquor Liability Act.  The trial court held that the companies and the employees were not liable as “social hosts” under the Act. 

The mother appealed the dismissals to the New Mexico Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court held that the drug companies and their employees had been properly sued as “social hosts” under the Liquor Liability Act.  The mother’s claims for wrongful death and New Mexico personal injury damages against the drug companies, the drug company employees, and the three liquor establishments will now be adjudicated in the trial court.