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We all know that drinking too much and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle is a bad, dangerous idea. It’s also illegal. And 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 a bar patron was over-served, then left the bar and caused a motor vehicle collision? 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.

Dram shop refers to bars, clubs, taverns, or similar commercial establishments where alcoholic beverages are sold or consumed. One of the main purposes of this law is to reduce instances of drunk driving or other crimes that are often committed while intoxicated. If a bartender knows that a patron is drunk but continues to serve alcohol to the person, the establishment can be held liable if the patron goes on to, for example, cause a fight or get in a car accident.

When a drunk driver crashes into a motorist or pedestrian, the injured victim can sue the intoxicated driver, as they could with any other motor vehicle collision. In Texas, and most other U.S. states, dram shop laws are in place to enable individuals to sue establishments that overserve people who later commit crimes, essentially making the dram shop responsible for the actions of its patrons while under the influence. There are only eight states that have no such laws: Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, and Virginia.

Navigating the Dram Shop statute can be tricky, so it is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side.

How Dram Shop Laws Apply to Texas

Under Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §2.01, a bar or retailer is liable if it sold, provided, or served an alcoholic beverage 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 his or her intoxication.

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 home, even if one of those social guests becomes intoxicated and then causes a collision.

There is one exception to this social host immunity, however. If a social host provides alcohol to a minor under the age of 18, the adult who contributed to the minor’s intoxication by knowingly serving him or her alcohol is responsible.

So, who is responsible when a bar patron gets served too much then causes a collision? The patron? The bar? Both? Like most things in the law, the answer is “It depends…”

Multiple parties can 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.

What Must Be Proven in a Dram Shop Claim?

In some states, a bar or tavern is automatically liable for any injuries if they sell alcohol to someone who is intoxicated. But Texas has set 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 alcohol. In other words, the bar or tavern should have known that they were selling 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 1) the Defendant Driver (the intoxicated patron), 2) the bar or restaurant (the Dram Shop), and even 3) 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 attorney’s office and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is essential to proving the case.

Proving the server provided alcohol to a Dram Shop 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 him or herself

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 collision can pursue an action against the establishment who 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 You 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, in Austin, it’s important to hold the liable parties responsible. While the drunk driver or individual will be at fault, if a bar or pub was involved, then they could be held liable as well. It isn’t an either/or situation. You can sue both.

This 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.

To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, please call 512-888-999 or send us a message today.

*This blog article was reviewed by a legal team for accuracy.

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DC Law