West v. E. Tenn. Pioneer Oil Co.

172 S.W.3d 545

 

RULE:

A convenience store employee owes a duty of reasonable care to persons on the roadways, including the plaintiffs, not to sell gasoline to a person whom the employee knows (or reasonably ought to know) to be intoxicated and to be the driver of the motor vehicle. Similarly, a convenience store employee also owes a duty of reasonable care not to assist in providing gasoline to a person whom the employee knows (or reasonably ought to know) to be intoxicated and to be the driver of the motor vehicle. Because foreseeability is the test of negligence, the convenience store employee must know that the individual is intoxicated and that the individual is the driver of the vehicle before a duty arises. It is a question of fact for a jury as to what the employee knew with respect to the individual's intoxication and status as driver. The Supreme Court of Tennessee, at Knoxville, does not hold that convenience store employees have a duty to physically restrain or otherwise prevent intoxicated persons from driving.

FACTS:

The plaintiffs were injured when their vehicle was struck by another vehicle driven by an intoxicated driver. The intoxicated driver had purchased gasoline at the defendant convenience store shortly before the accident and the store’s employees were aware that the driver was intoxicated and helped him operate the gas pump. The plaintiffs sued the convenience store, alleging that their employees were negligent for furnishing the intoxicated driver with gasoline that allowed him to operate his vehicle.

ISSUE:

Do convenience store employees owe a duty of reasonable care to persons on the roadways when those employees sell gasoline to an obviously intoxicated driver and/or assist the driver in pumping the gasoline into his vehicle?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Under the facts of the case, the court concluded that the acts of the defendant in selling gasoline to an obviously intoxicated driver and/or assisting that driver in pumping gasoline into his vehicle created a foreseeable risk to persons on the roadways, which included the plaintiffs. It is common knowledge that drunk driving directly results in accidents and the safer alternative was readily available and easily feasible by simply refusing to sell gasoline to the intoxicated driver. Thus, the defendant convenience store owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to the plaintiffs. The case was remanded for a jury to determine whether the defendants breached that duty by failing to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.

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