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West v. East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Co.

Tennessee Supreme Court
172 S.W.3d 545 (2005)


Brian Tarver stumbled drunkenly into an Exxon station and told the clerk to go get him some beer. She refused. Tarver cursed, put three dollars on the counter, said he needed gas, and stumbled back outside. Tarver tried to operate the gas pump himself but could not push the correct button, causing a beeper to go off inside the store. The clerk sent two off-duty employees outside. Both could tell that Tarver was obviously drunk. One nonetheless pushed the correct button, and the clerk inside activated the pump, allowing Tarver to pump three dollars’ worth of gas. The two off-duty employees watched Tarver pull out of the parking lot without turning on his headlights, into the wrong lane of traffic. Less than three miles away, Tarver hit the Wests (plaintiffs) in a head-on collision, causing serious injuries. The Wests sued the owner of the Exxon station, East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Co. (defendant), for negligently selling gasoline to a visibly intoxicated person and helping him pump it into his car. An expert testified that without the extra three dollars’ worth, Tarver would have run out of gas less than two miles away from the station, avoiding the accident another mile down the road. The station won summary judgment on three grounds: (1) it had no duty of care to the Wests while selling gasoline to Tarver; (2) its employees’ actions did not proximately cause the accident; and (3) negligent entrustment applies only in actions involving bailment, not an outright sale of goods. The court of appeals agreed as to negligent entrustment but reversed as to the negligence claim, prompting a further appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Barker, J.)

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