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Overview of Texas Dram Shop Law

Drunk driving

In Texas, as in all states, if someone becomes injured due to an act or action of an intoxicated person’s negligence or recklessness, the injured party has the potential to bring a Personal Injury lawsuit/claim against the responsible individual in an attempt to recover their losses and damages caused by the event.

However, in certain scenarios, a victim may have other legal remedies from which to choose. For example, someone injured in a drunk driving accident might have the possibility of bringing a claim against a third party or business (like a restaurant or a bar) that may be potentially responsible for providing alcoholic beverages to the intoxicated person who was responsible or at fault for the car accident. The history of the word ‘dram’ includes a mention in Romeo and Juliet.

The claims that may be brought against the person or business that supplies alcohol are known as “dram shop” claims.

What is a Dram Shop?

The term dram shop is not a phrase one hears in an everyday conversation. Dram Shop is a bit of an archaic term that refers to a time when bars or other establishments offered to sell alcohol (mostly whiskey or other spirits) by the dram, which is a serving that measures less than a typical shot of alcohol served today. In other words, a dram shop refers to taverns, pubs, restaurants, bars, or other commercial establishments where alcohol is either consumed or sold.

Dram shop laws in most jurisdictions establish negligence if the following criteria are met –

  • The establishment (or third party) serves a patron they knew (or should have reasonably known) was intoxicated or
  • The bar, restaurant, pub, or tavern serves alcohol to someone who has not reached the jurisdiction’s legal age for consuming alcohol.

The Purpose of Dram Shop Laws

Most people know that when a drunk driver is responsible for an accident with a pedestrian or motorist, those victims can sue the inebriated, reckless driver to receive monetary compensation for their injuries and damages.

One of the main reasons Dram Shop laws were enacted was to help reduce the number of drunk driving incidents (and other related crimes) committed by those who drink too much. If a bartender continues to provide alcoholic drinks to someone who is visibly intoxicated, the business/establishment can potentially be held liable for the actions of the patron – should the patron later cause an automobile accident or injure another person by starting a fight, for example.

In Texas and most other jurisdictions, dram shop laws are set forth as a legal means to allow people to sue a business or establishment that over serves individuals who later are responsible for the injuries caused by some sort of crime. Essentially, dram shop laws make the establishment responsible for the actions of a patron while they were intoxicated. There are six states without any dram shop laws. However, Texas is not one of them.

The reality is that negotiating the laws within a Dram Shop statute can be complex, so it is extremely essential to have a seasoned attorney helping you throughout the process.

Texas Dram Shop Laws

The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code is the statute that contains the Lone Star State’s dram shop as well as its social host laws. Texas law applies to any individual who is licensed (or permitted) to serve/sell alcohol. This legislation notes that those that provide alcohol can be held responsible for the damages and injuries caused by the intoxicated patron if –

  • If the establishment continued to serve alcohol to someone who was clearly so intoxicated that their level of impairment created a clear danger to either the person or someone else.
  • The patron’s intoxication caused the damage or injuries suffered.

Here is an example to clarify the Texas Dram Shop law –

One afternoon, before going home after a long day at work, Matt stops in at Joe’s Hideaways to relax and say hello to some old friends. While at Joe’s, Matt consumes several strong drinks and forgets about the time. His speech becomes obviously impaired, and his coordination seems to be waning, but the bartender continues to serve Matt each drink he requests.

When a friend reminds Matt that his family is likely waiting for him because it is getting late, Matt sloppily walks towards the bar’s exit. As he tries to navigate the establishment’s steps towards his car, Matt loses his footing and falls onto another patron – Eric, who is injured in the collision with Matt.

According to Texas law, Eric has the potential to seek compensation for his injuries from both Matt (which one would expect), but also Joe’s Hideaway – under the state’s dram shop law.

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §2.01

According to the above-noted legislation, an alcohol retailer or bar may be found liable if the retailer –

  • Sold
  • Provided
  • Served alcohol to someone who –
    • was obviously and clearly intoxicated when the alcohol was served, and
    • this same intoxicated person caused injuries and property damage because they were inebriated and impaired by excessive drinking.

But note, in Texas, these dram shop laws DON’T automatically create social host liabilities across the state. In other words, someone who over serves a family member or friend in their own home (not a commercial establishment) would NOT be responsible if one of their party guests over drinks, becomes intoxicated, and then creates a situation or accident that injures someone else or creates property damage.

Note, however, that there is one social host immunity exception in Texas law. If someone at a social gathering serves or provides an alcoholic drink to a minor (defined by someone who is not yet 18 years of age), the adult who contributed to the intoxication by knowingly serving a minor person an alcoholic beverage will be considered liable and responsible for the minor’s choices while intoxicated. [This is discussed in detail below.]

In many of these types of cases, there may be more than one person/business responsible for a collision or accident that causes injuries or damage to property. It is not unusual in these scenarios for multiple parties to be held accountable for the resulting damages of someone’s reckless behavior caused by alcohol intoxication.

The facts of the situation will determine the parties who are liable and the best legal approach for the victim(s).

The Allowable Damages and Timeframes Related to a Texas Dram Shop Claim

A dram shop liability lawsuit in Texas is a civil lawsuit, which refers solely to damages expressed in terms of monetary damages due to the reckless, negligent actions of another. Alcohol-related accidents may also include claims for –

  • Expenses for medical bills and ongoing medical care.
  • Lost wages will include earning capacity reductions if the accident causes a partial or total disability to the victim.
  • Compensation for the property that was lost or damaged by the incident.
  • Physical or mental pain and suffering caused by the event.

Like other injury claims in the Lone Star State, a dram shop claim should be filed in the appropriate Texas court within the state’s defined statute of limitations, which for Texas is two years from the date of injury.

Social Host Liability in Texas

The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code, as noted above, also includes a specific provision for social host liability. This part of the Texas law applies to anyone (which includes a vendor, establishment, or host of a social gathering) who –

  • Is a minimum of 21 years in age, and
  • Serves alcohol to a minor individual

The social host liability law in Texas denotes that those who provide alcohol can be held responsible (as well as liable) for any damages or injuries caused by a minor who is intoxicated if –

  • The minor being served is younger than 18 years old.
  • The person providing alcohol to the minor is not their parent or custodial guardian, and
    • The person knowingly provided the alcohol to the minor alcohol which contributed to their intoxication OR
    • The person allowed the minor to be served alcohol on the premises. This action contributed to the minor’s intoxication.

Here is an example to clarify the Social Host Liability provision under Texas law –

Lisa is a 17-year-old high school student who is invited to her neighbor Bobby’s house for a backyard barbeque on a beautiful Spring day. Bobby bought a keg for the adults attending the party to enjoy. However, during the party, Bobby noticed that Lisa was helping herself to beer from the unattended keg. Bobby decides that he is not going to say anything to Lisa about her drinking beer.

Soon after, Lisa decides to visit a friend and hops in her car for a short drive to a nearby neighborhood. As Lisa makes her way down the street, she fails to yield to a stop sign and subsequently hits Mickey, an older gentleman walking home from the grocery store.

Mickey is injured in the collision and needs immediate and ongoing medical care. Mickey has the option to seek damages from both Lisa (for being the responsible party who caused the accident) as well as Bobby (as the social host) – in accordance with the state Social Host Liability law.

How to Prove A Dram Shop Claim in Texas?

In certain states, the establishment – the bar, pub, restaurant, or tavern, is automatically liable for damages if they sell/serve alcohol to an individual who a) is obviously impaired or intoxicated and b) is responsible for injuring someone or causing property damage.

In fact, Texas state law has no mandate that a restaurant or bar carry coverage known as Liquor Liability Insurance.

Texas, however, sets the legal bar a bit higher than those other jurisdictions.  To submit a legal claim under the Texas dram shop law, the plaintiff must be able to show that the patron (a.k.a., the individual that caused the incident) was obviously (noticeably or visibly) intoxicated when the alcohol was sold.

In other words, the bar, pub, or tavern bears the responsibility of being cognizant enough to know that they were selling/serving an alcoholic beverage to someone who was already impaired and likely becoming a risk to themselves and unsuspecting others.

Assessing a dram shop case requires the evaluation of –

  • The defendant driver, a.k.a., the intoxicated patron who allegedly caused the injuries and damages.
  • The bar or restaurant, a.k.a., the dram shop.
  • The claimant, who has been injured by the actions of the defendant that caused the event.

Note that it can be challenging to prove a server provided an alcoholic beverage to a patron in a dram shop because it is a rare occasion when a server will willingly admit to over-serving an intoxicated patron.

The reality is that the party responsible for the collision can be one party or shared by two (or more) individuals or parties. It is essential for anyone readying a potential claim to make sure there is a quick and comprehensive investigation done by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and your attorney.

More often, a dram shop lawsuit requires the gathering of the following if one is to prove over-service –

  • Circumstantial evidence.
  • Witness testimony.
  • Information that can be obtained from a toxicologist expert who may provide the following –
  • If the patron’s speech was slurred at the time of service.
  • If the patron’s eyes were bloodshot at the time of service.
  • If the patron’s breath already smelled of alcohol at the time of service.
  • Another patron or employee told the waitress or the bartender that the patron had been drinking.
  • If the patron was unsteady on their feet at the time of service.
  • If the patron consumed, while at the bar or establishment, an amount of alcohol, that would typically result in the average person becoming intoxicated.

In addition, the plaintiff in a Texas dram shop lawsuit must also be able to prove that the sale or serving of the alcoholic beverage was the proximate (or likely) cause of the damages and injuries. The proximate cause is an act, through a natural progression, that is the primary cause of the harm caused by negligence or malintent. Proximate cause injuries can be proven directly, especially if the injuries were caused by an intoxicated individual.

So, as noted above, negotiating the path to a successful dram shop lawsuit in the Lone Star State can be challenging if you go choose to go it alone without professional legal guidance.

Bringing A Lawsuit Under The Dram Shop Law in Texas

Dram shop laws enacted in the Lone Star State are designed to protect the public from reckless and negligent choices of others. Examples of the individuals that may bring a dram shop lawsuit in Texas include the following –

  • Any drivers or motorists that are in an accident caused by a drunk driver.
  • Pedestrians or bicyclists that are in an accident that was caused by a drunk driver.
  • Passengers who are riding with a drunk driver.
  • Passengers who are riding in another vehicle that was involved in the car accident caused by the negligent individual.
  • The drunk driver themselves.

Many people find the last example somewhat of a surprise.  However, in fact, according to Texas law, a drunk driver can bring a dram shop lawsuit to recover damages for themselves.

Each Dram Shop (i.e., bar, tavern, or restaurant), pursuant to its state-authorized liquor license, has a legal responsibility to each of its patrons to provide appropriate service that complies with state law.

So, even if it is the drunk driver who injures himself in a collision, they have the ability to pursue a legal claim or action against the establishment that should have known better than to serve him or her additional alcohol when they are showing obvious signs of inebriation and drunkenness.

However, it is crucial that you remember that the facts involved in the specific situation will determine the ultimate outcome.

How Can Texas Dram Shop Lawyers Help?

If a drunk or intoxicated driver has injured you or someone you love in a car crash or another incident, it is important to seek medical help first and then determine the ways in which you may hold the responsible parties accountable for their poor and negligent choices that have led to unlawful actions.

While a drunk driver or intoxicated individual is often the apparent cause of the accident that caused injuries or damage, the reality is that if a tavern, restaurant, pub, or bar contributed to the individual’s inebriation, the proprietors or servers might be held liable, too. This is because, in some situations, it is not an either/or situation but something more complicated. There are specific situations in which a victim may be able to submit a lawsuit against both the individual who caused the event and the dram shop with legal responsibilities to limit alcohol to intoxicated patrons.

In Texas, dram shop laws are complex, so if you have been victimized by a reckless intoxicated individual, it is essential to consult with a seasoned attorney to understand your legal options for recovery.

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