In Arizona, dram shops may sometimes be liable for injuries caused by their intoxicated patrons. For example, if a dram shop overserves a patron who then drives away and hits a motorist, the dram shop may be liable to the motorist.
But what if the overserved patron drives home safely, sleeps, then wakes up and decides to drive again? Can the dram shop be liable if the patron then hits a motorist?
No, held the Court of Appeals, because proximate cause is lacking.
As in any negligence action, proximate cause is required for dram shop liability. It involves foreseeability of injury. Essentially, a dram shop can be liable only for injuries it reasonably could have foreseen.
Proximate cause is defeated when an intervening superseding cause occurs. This means that, when an unforeseeable and extraordinary event occurs after a dram shop’s interaction with a patron and that event causes the injury, the dram shop is not liable.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that, when an overserved patron drives home, sleeps, then wakes up and decides to drive again, that decision is an intervening superseding cause. Injuries that occur after that decision are not reasonably foreseeable by the dram shop. Otherwise a dram shop could be liable for injuries that occur even after calling a cab to take an overserved patron home.
This is a matter of law. Because the trial court let the jury decide the issue, the Court of Appeals reversed.
Presiding Judge Winthrop delivered the opinion. Judges Cruz and Gass joined.
Posted by: Josh Whitaker
Disclosure: Osborn Maledon attorneys were involved with this case.