Sanchez-Ravuelta v. Yavapai Cnty. – 4/3/2024

May 21, 2024

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control owes a duty to victims of drunk drivers if the driver was overserved at a bar licensed by the agency.

A family involved in a car accident sued Yavapai County, the town of Dewey-Humboldt, and the State of Arizona after a drunk driver pulled into an intersection and caused serious injuries. The family alleged the state breached its duty, in part, because it issued a bar a liquor license even though the bar had a history of overserving patrons.

The government defendants successfully moved to dismiss this claim on the basis that the state did not owe a duty to prevent drunk drivers from causing collisions. The family appealed.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s holding and found the state owed the family a duty under these circumstances. Because the statutory scheme, which created the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control and provided it with the power of enforcement, expressly contemplated overserving patrons as a risk to the public it sought to prevent, plaintiffs who suffer harm from that overservice fall within the class of persons the statutes aim to protect. Unlike police departments, which oversee the general public’s safety, Arizona’s Department of Liquor Licenses and Control only oversees liquor licensees, with the specific aim of preventing specific harms related to alcohol abuse. Thus, an acknowledgment of an actionably duty would not make this Department a general insurer of public safety.

Judge Eckerstrom authored the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Kelly joined. Judge Eppich concurred in part and dissented in part.

In dissent, Judge Eppich distinguished statutes that create actionable duty from those cited by the majority, reasoning that actionable duties stem from statutes that regulate conduct. The statutes cited by the majority only described power, duties, and the organization of the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, while those that specifically address conduct are limited to the persons who consume alcohol, not those that serve it.

Judge Eppich also viewed the statutory authority at issue more akin to general law enforcement powers. He noted the majority misplaced its focus on the narrow class of licensees subject to this regulation and specific class of persons harmed by alcohol abuse because the statute is not directed at specific protections for a particular person and because its identified class is indistinguishable from the general public.

Posted by: Gloria Farrisi