We all know that drinking too much and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle is a bad, dangerous idea. It’s also illegal. If you’ve ever worked in the food and beverage industry, you are also aware that serving too many drinks to a patron is also dangerous and illegal.
Have you ever wondered who would be legally responsible if an intoxicated person was over-served at a bar, then left the establishment, and caused a drunk driving accident? The answer might be more complicated than you think, and only certain lawyers have experience prosecuting these complex cases.
DC Law’s attorneys have significant experience in handling these “Dram Shop” cases and have put together this guide to Dram Shop Law in Texas to answer any questions you may have on the topic.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver that was over-served by a bar or an alcohol-serving establishment in Texas, reach out our experienced Austin dram shop lawyer for legal help.
HOW DRAM SHOP LAWS APPLY TO TEXAS
Under Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §2.01, alcohol-serving establishments, such as bars, restaurants, or liquor stores, are liable if they sold, provided, or served alcohol to a customer who was obviously intoxicated at the time the transaction took place, and that customer went on to cause injuries and property damage due to their intoxication.
So, who is responsible when a bar patron gets served too much and then causes a collision? The patron? The bar? Both? Like most things in the law, the answer is “It depends…”
Multiple parties may be held liable for the person’s intoxication and the resulting damages. It all depends on the facts present in the individual case. It is important for people injured by a drunk driver to talk to a lawyer who will give each case the individual attention it deserves. The facts present in the case will dictate the best approach for the attorney.
DRAM SHOP LIABILITY VS. SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY
In Texas, the dram shop laws do NOT create liability for “Social Hosts.” That is, individuals are typically not liable for over-serving friends or family in their own homes, even if one of those social guests becomes intoxicated and then gets in a car accident.
There is one exception to this social host immunity, however. If a social host provides alcoholic beverages to a minor under the age of 18, and the child gets in a car accident, the adult who contributed to the minor’s intoxication by knowingly serving them alcohol is responsible. Additionally, if a social host provides alcohol to a minor and the minor dies from alcohol poisoning, the social host can be held liable for the minor’s death.
However, there are exceptions to these exceptions. If a minor’s parent serves them alcohol, and the minor goes on to injure someone, the parent cannot be held liable. And, social hosts who serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person aged 18-20—whether or not they are related to them—cannot be held liable even though the person served is under the legal drinking age.
WHAT MUST BE PROVEN IN DRAM SHOP LAWSUITS?
In some states, a bar or tavern is automatically liable for any injuries if they sell alcohol to someone who is intoxicated. But Texas Dram Shop Law sets the bar a little higher. To use the dram shop law, you must prove that the customer was visibly or obviously intoxicated when they were sold alcoholic beverages. In other words, the bar or tavern should have known that they sold or served alcohol to someone who was already a risk to themselves and others.
In Texas, the laws are more complicated. Texas bars and servers are not automatically liable for injuries caused by over-serving alcohol to an intoxicated patron. Texas does not even require bars and restaurants to carry Liquor Liability Insurance coverage. Navigating the possible pitfalls in a Texas Dram Shop case can be a minefield if you do not know what you’re doing.
Evaluating a case of this nature requires the attorney, and ultimately the jury, to balance the potential fault of the following:
- The defendant Driver (the intoxicated patron)
- The bar or restaurant (the Dram Shop)
- The plaintiff (the injured claimant)
The fault for the collision can be held by only one of these parties, or shared by two or more parties. A prompt and thorough investigation by the Plaintiff’s attorney and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is essential to proving the case.
Proving the Dram Shop provided alcohol to a patron can be difficult. Rarely will a server admit to over-service. More commonly, proving over-service is done by way of circumstantial evidence, witness testimony, or through a retained toxicologist expert. The evidence of intoxication might include:
- The customer’s speech was slurred
- The customer’s eyes were bloodshot
- The customer’s breath already smelled of alcohol
- Someone told the bartender/waitress that the customer had been drinking
- The customer was unsteady on their feet
- The customer consumed so much alcohol at the establishment that an average person would be intoxicated
You also need to prove that the sale of alcohol was a proximate cause of your injuries. This is usually easy, especially if you were injured by a drunk driver.
CAN I BRING A LAWSUIT UNDER THE DRAM SHOP LAW?
Dram shop laws are in place to protect a wide range of people, including:
- Motorists or pedestrians hit by a drunk driver
- Passengers riding with a drunk driver
- The drunk driver
This last one might surprise you, but it is true. Each Dram Shop, pursuant to its state-authorized liquor license, has a responsibility to its patrons to provide proper service under the law. So a drunk driver who injures himself in a car accident can pursue action against the establishment that provided the over-service of alcohol. Again, the facts are important, and it is important to have an experienced attorney evaluate the best approach.
LET OUR AUSTIN, TEXAS PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEYS HELP WITH YOUR TEXAS DRAM SHOP CASE TODAY
If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, or another incident incited by an intoxicated individual, it’s important to hold the liable parties responsible. While the drunk driver or individual will be at fault, if a bar or other alcohol-serving establishments were involved, they may be held liable as well. It isn’t an either/or situation. You can sue both.
Dram Shop Law is a complicated area of law, and you would be best served by working with a seasoned dram shop lawyer in Austin who also specializes in drunk driving cases. DC Law has served the Austin area for years, and we are always available to meet with potential clients.
*This blog article was reviewed by a legal team for accuracy.