Madrid v. Brinker Rest. Corp. – Dram Shop Judgment Challenged

In any injury lawsuit, a critical element is causation. That means even if plaintiff can prove defendant was negligent, he or she must also prove that negligence caused the alleged injuries. motorcycle1

A recent dram shop lawsuit weighed by the New Mexico Supreme Court drove home this point. In Madrid v. Brinker Rest. Corp., plaintiff was seriously injured and the operator of the motorcycle on which she was a passenger instantly killed, when a van driver making a turn failed to observe a stop sign and the two vehicles collided.

Plaintiff sued the liquor establishment that served alcohol to the motorcycle operator, alleging they violated the state’s dram shop laws. Defendants countered on the issue of causation, arguing the crash was solely caused by a third party and given that factor, collision was unavoidable, even if motorcyclist had been sober.

In support of its position, defendants presented evidence including testimony from an accident reconstructionist who opined that the crash couldn’t have been avoided by any maneuver motorcyclist could have initiated, including applying the brakes or attempting evasive action. Not only could the crash not have been avoided due to third party action, but the expert ruled there was nothing the motorcyclist could have done that would have resulted in more severe consequences.

Plaintiff refuted this by asserting the crash was either avoidable or able to mitigated had the motorcyclist, if sober:

  • Reduced his speed;
  • Swerved right or gone around the van;
  • Driven into a nearby open field;
  • Lay down he bike so that it went under the van instead of straight into it.

Plaintiff argued a different outcome was possible had motorcyclist not been drinking, and in turn had a faster reaction time. This might have resulted in plaintiff’s body falling in a different position, which in turn could have lessened the severity of her injuries.

Although she conceded motorcyclist was operating at a speed that was reasonable, alcohol would have clouded his judgment, reaction time and ability to perceive the threat.

Trial court was not persuaded by plaintiff’s argument and granted summary judgment favoring defendants.

Plaintiff argued for reconsideration, which trial court granted, but still ultimately rejected plaintiff’s position.

The appellate court upheld this decision, and more recently, so did the Mexico Supreme Court. The higher courts found plaintiff’s assertions about the avoidability of the crash to be purely speculative. The expert witness testimony plaintiff presented failed to indicate his methods for reaching certain time frames.

This does not mean plaintiff is necessarily without option for recovery. It appears fairly clear that the actions of the van driver were negligent, and it likely be advisable to explore legal action against that driver.

In the event that van driver lacks insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover plaintiff’s damages, an uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist insurance policy – possessed by plaintiff at the time of the crash – could provide additional coverage.

It’s worth noting by our West Palm car accident attorneys that Florida and New Mexico dram shop laws differ. In this state, plaintiffs can only recover damages if the establishment served alcohol to a minor under 21 or an adult who is known to be habitually addicted to alcohol.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Madrid v. Brinker Rest. Corp.,  Dec. 10, 2015, New Mexico Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Medical Emergencies That Preclude Crashes Complicate Injury Claims, Dec. 16, 2015, West Palm Injury Lawyer Blog