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by Jeff Rasansky -

If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a car accident where the driver at fault was under the influence of alcohol, you may be able to hold a restaurant or bar responsible for the accident for over serving a drunk patron and allowing that patron to leave while intoxicated.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

“Dram shop” is not a common phrase in today’s language, but it was in England in the 1700s. At that time, liquor was sold in small quantities called a dram – so a “dram shop” was any place that sold alcohol.  If you were to wander into the modern equivalent of a dram shop, you would just be heading down to your favorite bar or restaurant that serves alcohol.

Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have dram shop laws. Texas is one of them. Dram shop laws, under certain circumstances, hold a drinking establishment like a bar liable for injuries or death that result from someone being intoxicated. Generally, for a defendant to be liable under a dram shop statute, the plaintiff must prove that the bar continued to serve alcohol to an obviously drunk person.    However, these cases are complex and require the plaintiff specifically prove the elements of that state’s statute.

Q: Does Texas have Dram Shop Laws?

A: Yes. In Texas, if you are involved in and/or injured in a drunk-driving accident and can establish that a bar over-served the driver who caused the accident, you may have a case against that establishment. Keep on reading to learn more about Texas dram shop laws.

Elements of a Texas Dram Shop Case

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code sets out the elements that must be proven for a driver injured in a drunk driving accident to bring a successful case against a bar for dram shop liability.

  • First, at the time the bar served, sold, or provided an alcoholic beverage, it was apparent to the provider (generally the bartender) that the individual was so obviously intoxicated that he or she would present a clear danger to himself and others.
  • Second, the intoxication of the recipient was a proximate cause (see below) of the damages suffered.

Proximate cause means that the intoxication of the person must have been the cause of the accident and that the injuries of the injured driver resulted from the accident.

Proving Dram Shop Liability

It can be complicated to prove that someone is “obviously intoxicated to the extent he presented a clear danger to himself and others” as required under Texas law. Texas courts have held that the bar (through the bartender or waiter) doesn’t have to have actual knowledge of drunken behavior, but rather that they should have seen.  Also, evidence such as the driver’s blood alcohol limit or the presence of other eyewitnesses can be used to show that the bartender did or should have known that the drunk driver should not have been served. Because proving the elements of a dram shop case can be difficult and may require expert witness testimony, you should consider hiring a personal injury attorney experienced in dealing with DWI accidents and dram shop liability cases.

Serving Minors and Social Host Liability

Social host liability is related to the portion of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC) that deals with serving alcohol to minors.  When it comes to serving minors, both businesses and private individuals, or “social hosts” can be liable if an accident occurs. The law states, in summary,  that an adult 21 years of age or older can be liable for damages proximately caused (again, meaning that it can be proven that the accident that caused injuries was caused by serving too much alcohol) by the intoxication of a minor under 18 if:

(1) the adult is not the minor’s parent, guardian, spouse, or court-appointed guardian and

(2) the adult knowingly served or provided to the minor any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication or allowed the minor to be served on the premises owned or leased by the adult.

It is important to note that social host liability does not apply to social hosts who over-serve their guests who are over the age of  21

What is the Safe Harbor Defense?

The Safe Harbor defense is a defense which allows a business that sells alcohol to have immunity from a dram shop claim, even if an employee like a bartender or waiter violated the Dram Shop Act.  To qualify for the defense, the following must happen:

  • The establishment must require their employees their employees to attend a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission-approved seller training program
  • The employee in question must have actually attended the program
  • The employer did not directly or indirectly encourage the employee to violate the Texas Dram Shop Act.

Damages and Timing of Lawsuits

A Texas dram shop or social host liability claim is just like any other personal injury claim in Texas.  If you wish to file a lawsuit against either the drunk driver who injured you in the DWI accident or the bar or social host, the statute of limitations is two years. This means that, unless there is a permissible legal reason for the delay, you must file your lawsuit within two years of the date on which the collision and subsequent injury occurred.

The types of damages you can recover in a dram shop case are the same as other personal injury cases and can include medical bills, lost wages, compensation for pain and suffering, and property damages. It is important to note that just because there is potential dram shop liability does not mean that you are prevented from seeking damages from the drunk driver themselves. Generally, a jury will determine the proportion of liability that the driver and the bar or restaurant had.  This apportionment of liability can be complicated, and it’s a good idea to consult an attorney experienced in DWI accidents.

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