Torres v. Jai Dining Servs. (11.2.21)

The Arizona Supreme Court begins this dram shop case opinion with noting other courts have blended the different concepts of actual cause and proximate cause and then uses this blended version of causation. Resolution of this case, the court continues, depends on the scope of the risk and foreseeability. Without any reference to these themes embedded in the Third Restatement, the court ends up defining proximate cause by what it isn’t, i.e., unforeseeable and extraordinary. Here are the facts. Intoxicated patron named Cesar Villanueva who is there with friends and his girlfriend is kicked out of a night club at 2:30 a.m. He drives away and gets to his brother’s house where he stays for over an hour. Around 4:00 a.m. his brother takes Villanueva to his own home along with his girlfriend and one of her friends. Villanueva sleeps for a little at his own home but then he is asked to take his girlfriend’s friend home. The friend drives his truck to her home while Villanueva and his girlfriend sleep in the backseat. After arriving at the friend’s house, Villanueva climbs into the front seat and drives away. He causes an accident and kills two people. (The court of appeals’ opinion has more of the details of BAC etc.) Case is tried, and the jury awards $2 million in compensatory damages and apportions 60% fault against Villanueva and 40% against the club. The court of appeals reversed the judgment holding the chain of causation was broken when Villanueva first arrived safely home. Villanueva’s driving was a superseding and intervening cause. Arizona Supreme Court reverses the court of appeals’ opinion that an overserved patron’s later decision to drive while intoxicated after safely reaching home or a similar resting place constitute an intervening and superseding cause that breaks the chain of causation. Proximate cause depends on the scope of the risk and foreseeability. The risk created by overserving alcohol is that the patron will drive while intoxicated and cause an accident. “We agree with Plaintiffs that the risk created by a liquor licensee overserving a patron exists as long as the patron drives intoxicated, regardless of when or where the patron travels and even with a short stop at home.” The supreme court then recognizes instances including liquor liability claims where the driving is not foreseeable and is extraordinary. The court distinguishes the Patterson v. Thunder Pass decision where a tavern employee took a patron home, the patron then decides to walk back and retrieve her car, and then causes an accident. In that case the patron’s decision to go back was unforeseeable and extraordinary as a matter of law. Finally, the supreme court remands the case back to the court of appeals to decide what to do with an argument raised with the argument first raised with the court of appeals that A.R.S. § 4-312(B) preempts common law dram shop claims. Perhaps we will see this case back again at the supreme court.

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