Too Gassed Up?

August 25, 2015
Too Gassed Up?

Yes, this one is real. The company that was sued here (“the defendant”) operates an Exxon convenience store on U.S. Highway 11W, also known as Rutledge Pike, in Knox County, Tennessee. The store consists of three connected portions—a convenience market and gas station, an ice cream counter, and a “Huddle House” restaurant—each owned and operated by the defendant. Late on July 22, 2000, Brian Tarver (“Tarver”) entered the convenience store. Tarver was obviously intoxicated. Tarver pushed his way to the front of a long line and asked the clerk if she would “go get [him] some beer.” Tarver smelled of beer and staggered as he walked. The clerk refused to sell him beer because, in her opinion, Tarver was intoxicated.

After being denied beer, Tarver began cursing loudly, talking in a threatening manner, and causing a disturbance inside the store. Tarver then managed to pull three crumpled one dollar bills out of his pocket and laid them on the counter. He told the clerk, “we need gas” and then turned to leave. A customer opened the door for Tarver, who staggered out of the store. A few moments later an alarm began “beeping” inside the store, alerting the clerk that someone was attempting to activate the gasoline pumps outside. Two off-duty Huddle House employees were at the store and came to the aid of the intoxicated Tarver, who could not push the correct button to activate the pump. They testified that they “could smell it [alcohol] on him” and “when we seen him walk away, [we] could tell he was drunk.” Once she pushed the correct button on the pump for him, the clerk behind the counter activated the pump from inside the store.

Tarver pumped three dollars worth of gasoline, and left without turning on his headlights, and drove into the wrong lane of traffic. He was traveling south with no headlights on and in the wrong lane, while the plaintiffs’ vehicle was traveling north on Rutledge Pike. Tarver managed to travel 2.8 miles from the convenience store before striking the plaintiffs’ vehicle head-on. Both of the plaintiffs sustained very serious injuries in the accident.

The plaintiffs’ expert, a mechanical engineering professor at U.T., examined the fuel tank of Tarver’s vehicle and determined that at the time Tarver stopped at the defendant’s store his vehicle contained only enough fuel to travel another 1.82 miles. Therefore, without the three dollars worth of gas he obtained at the store, Tarver would have “run out” of gasoline approximately one mile before reaching the accident scene.

This case is going to trial, since the Tennessee Supreme Court felt that: convenience store employees owed a duty of reasonable care to persons on the roadways, including the plaintiffs, when selling gasoline to an obviously intoxicated driver and/or assisting an obviously intoxicated driver in pumping the gasoline into his vehicle.

It appears that the store would not be blamed if they would have refused to sell him the gas like they refused to sell him the beer.

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