Arizona Supreme Court: Overserved Patron’s Decision to Stop Home Before Driving Again Does Not Relieve Liquor Licensee’s Liability as a Matter of Law

Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, P.L.C.

Torres v. JAI Dining Servs. (Phx.) Inc.

Arizona Supreme Court
November 2, 2021

The Arizona Supreme Court held today in Torres v. JAI Dining Servs. (Phx.) Inc. that an overserved patron’s decision to stop at home and sleep before getting back behind the wheel was not an intervening, superseding cause that relieved the liquor licensee from liability as a matter of law. Rather, the issue was a question of fact for the jury.

Villanueva spent an evening drinking and socializing at Jaguars Club in Phoenix, and then drove away from the club while intoxicated. He eventually returned home and fell asleep for a short time before getting up to take a friend home. Tragically, Villanueva was still intoxicated and crashed into a car stopped at a red light, killing its occupants. The bar argued that Villanueva’s decision to stop at home and sleep broke the chain of causation and relieved the bar of liability as a matter of law.

The court disagreed. Overserving alcohol causes a foreseeable risk that the overserved patron will drive while intoxicated and cause an accident that injures or kills another person. That risk exists as long as the patron drives while intoxicated. It is not eliminated merely because the patron safely returns home with the intent to “sleep, eat, change clothes, or do myriad other things before deciding to leave home, and resume driving.” Whether an overserved patron’s decision to stop at home after leaving the bar relieves the licensee from liability is generally a jury question.

The court rejected the bar’s argument that the court was imposing “potentially never-ending liability” on liquor licensees. First, in all cases the risk of liability ends when the patron sobers up. Thus, the risk of liability correlates directly to the degree in which the liquor licensee overserves the patron. Second, in some cases, the patron’s decision to resume driving after reaching home will be unforeseeable and extraordinary in hindsight, making the patron’s act a superseding cause that relieves the liquor licensee from liability. Third, there will be cases, like Patterson v. Thunder Pass, Inc. (Ariz. Ct. App. 2007), where the licensee’s employees separated the driver from her vehicle and left her car in the bar parking lot. The court in that case held that the patron’s decision to walk back to retrieve the car and then drive was unforeseeable and therefore a superseding cause as a matter of law.

Here, the facts reflected that JAI’s personnel knew only that the overserved patron drove away from the club after he was escorted out, and did not know where he was heading or how long he would be driving intoxicated. Under these circumstances, JAI was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law and the issue was properly submitted to the jury.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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