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Can a Car Dealership Be Responsible for a Driver's DUI?

Posted by Lynn Gorelick | Mar 14, 2016 | 0 Comments

If a car dealership hands over the keys to a driver who later gets into an alcohol-related accident, can the dealership be held responsible?

Warren Smale was a 43-year-old car salesman for CarMax dealership in Ontario, California. Alex Mark Demetro, a 28-year-old man came into the dealership to test drive a Chevrolet Corvette. The test drive ended tragically when the driver lost control, crashing the car into a tree. The driver is suspected of being under the influence of drugs when the crash occurred.

Smale was transported to the hospital in critical condition, and later died of his injuries. The driver is now facing vehicular manslaughter and felony drugged driving. It is unclear whether Demetro showed any signs of intoxication at the dealership before he was given the keys to the Corvette.

In Texas, an appellate court decision will leave it up to a jury to determine whether a car dealership may be held responsible for a customer involved in a drunk driving accident. In Pleasanton, Texas, a man who was the victim in a drunk driving crash sued the Atascosa Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealership. The lawsuit alleges the dealership negligently gave a loaner car to a customer with a history of drunk driving arrests, and no valid license.

According to the lawsuit, William John Heyden was driving a loaner Dodge Ram while under the influence of alcohol, when he crossed over and crashed head-on into a car driven by Steven Walters. Both drivers were taken to the hospital for treatment. Heyden later testified that he was trying to drive off a bridge to kill himself.

Heyden reportedly had a record of drunk driving incidents. The car he bought from the dealership was a replacement from his previous vehicle which had been totaled in a drunk driving accident. He also told the salesman he did not have a valid license, and had lost his license after a DUI arrest.

After his newly purchased car broke down, Heyden called the dealership for a tow, and drank a six-pack of beer while he waited. After a tow back to the lot, a salesman offered him the Dodge Ram. According to Heyden, he believed he was legally over the limit at the time he drove away from the dealership, though the salesman said he showed no signs of being intoxicated.

Walters sued the dealership, but the trial court dismissed the case based on the dealership's argument that the drunken suicide attempt was not foreseeable. On appeal, the Texas Court of Appeals said it would be up to a jury to determine whether the dealership could be held liable for the accident.

If you are arrested for a DUI or other driving offence, your arrest does not have to end in a conviction. With more than 30 years of experience defending people facing drunk driving charges in the East Bay, Lynn Gorelick understands the local laws and penalties involved. Contact a local East Bay DUI defense attorney who understands the theft charges you are facing, and is familiar with the local laws, prosecutors and the courts.

About the Author

Lynn Gorelick

Lynn Gorelick has been an attorney for over 38 years. She is the Attorney Lynn Gorelick is the Immediate Past President of the California DUI Lawyers Association and a Faculty and Sustaining member of the National College of DUI Defense. Lynn is a Specialist Member of the California DUI Lawyers Association and lectures frequently to other attorneys regarding DUI and DMV issues.


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