DRAM SHOP CASE:
BARRY MASSEY Associated Press
June 28, 2011 - 4:33 pm
SANTA FE, N.M. — The family of two siblings killed in a car accident can seek damages against a tribal casino for serving them alcohol after they became intoxicated, the state's highest court has ruled. Santa Ana Pueblo's casino had argued that the legal dispute should be handled in tribal court rather than in a state court. The state Supreme Court disagreed in a ruling on Monday.The unanimous decision permits a wrongful death lawsuit to move ahead against the Santa Ana Star Casino near Bernalillo.The case was brought by the mother and other family of Michael and Desiree Mendoza, a brother and sister who were killed in a car crash in July 2006 after attending a wedding reception at the casino. It's unclear which of the two were driving the car. The lawsuit claims their deaths were caused because the casino continued to serve them alcohol after they were intoxicated. A pueblo liquor ordinance prohibited the casino from serving alcoholic drinks to an intoxicated person.
David Plotsky, an Albuquerque lawyer for the Mendozas' mother and Desiree's two children, said Tuesday the ruling means "the tribal casinos are subject to the same set of laws and accountability as a nontribal bar or tavern." "I think it's fairly important because there is a lot of patronage of the casinos and whenever alcohol is involved there needs to be clarification that the state liquor liability laws are going to apply to activities on tribal casino property. That wasn't clear until now," said Plotsky.
New Mexico has a so-called "dram shop" law that permits intoxicated patrons to sue state-licensed bars to recover damages for their injuries. A state statute also allows claims by third parties — such as a motorist injured by a drunken driver — against a bar that served the intoxicated person. However, the casino is licensed by the pueblo — not the state — to sell alcohol. The casino contended a state court lacked jurisdiction over it. The justices said the damage claims against the casino were allowed under legal precedents in case law. The court also said a provision in a gambling compact between the state and the tribe provides for state courts to handle cases involving injuries to casino visitors.
The case goes back to a state district court in Albuquerque, which had dismissed the lawsuit. Richard Hughes, a lawyer for Santa Ana's casino, said his client was reviewing the decision and considering its legal options. He said the ruling "by no means determines the outcome of the case" and whether the casino will be held liable for damages.
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