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Are Bars and Restaurants Responsible for Overserving Drunk Drivers?

Nov 05, 2019 Car Accidents, Drunk Driving Accidents, Vehicle Wrecks
  1. 1. What Are Dram Shop Laws?
  2. 2. How Do I Prove a Dram Shop Case in Texas?
  3. 3. Does a Bar Have Defenses to a Dram Shop Claim?
  4. 4. Crosley Law Stands Up for Victims of Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is a growing problem in Texas. In 2018, alcohol-related crashes resulted in 940 deaths and more than 13,000 injuries. While most people focus their attention on the drunk driver, there’s another recovery option that many victims of drunk driving don’t think about – dram shop liability.

Under Texas law, bars and restaurants that knowingly serve intoxicated customers or minors may be responsible for damages if the patron injures someone. However, these laws are incredibly complicated and include many exceptions. Keep reading to learn more about dram shop liability in Texas and your legal rights and options.

What Are Dram Shop Laws?

“Dram shop” is an old-fashioned term for any establishment that sells alcoholic beverages. Under Texas law, bars and restaurants cannot knowingly overserve a customer or provide alcohol to minors. If someone seems intoxicated or cannot provide identification, the business must refuse the customer’s requests for additional alcohol.

When a bar or restaurant violates this obligation, and someone is injured, the business may be liable for the victim’s damages. However, victims must file their dram shop claims within two years of their date of injury.

There are two forms of dram shop liability in Texas.

First-Party Dram Shop Claims

You may have a first-party claim if a bar knowingly overserves you and you get into a serious crash. While the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Code does not address first-party claims, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed their viability in Smith v. Sewell.

Suppose you stumble up to a bar and demand a shot of tequila while slurring your words. The bartender notices your behavior, but provides you with the drink – and keeps on serving you as you become even more impaired. On your drive home, you veer off the road and hit a tree, damaging your spinal cord. You may have a first-party claim against the bar.

Third-Party Dram Shop Claims

Third-party dram shop claims are what come to mind when most people think about bar owner liability. In these cases, someone is overserved at a bar and decides to drive home. They lose control of their vehicle and injure someone else. In Texas, the crash victim may have a claim against the bar that overserved the drunk driver.

How Do I Prove a Dram Shop Case in Texas?

Compared to a traditional drunk driving claim, dram shop liability claims are more complicated and nuanced. First, you must prove the essential elements of a dram shop claim. Then, you may need to rebut the bar’s various defenses.

To start, victims will need to prove that:

  • The dram shop provided alcohol to the driver.
  • It was apparent that the customer was “obviously intoxicated” and presented a clear danger to themselves and others.
  • The driver’s intoxication caused the crash and the victim’s injuries.

What Is Obvious Intoxication?

When you think about “obvious intoxication,” you probably think of someone whose impairment is physically apparent; they are slurring their speech, stumbling, losing consciousness, or becoming physically ill. While those manifestations would likely meet Texas’ standard, the courts have found “obvious intoxication” in other, subtler circumstances.

“The safe harbor defense helps bars and restaurants avoid dram shop liability by providing adequate training and systems that protect against overserving.”

For example, providing a person with an unreasonable number of drinks in a relatively short period, like six pints of beer in an hour, may suggest that they were obviously intoxicated.

There is a variety of evidence that an attorney will collect during a dram shop liability claim. Depending on your circumstances, your dram lawyer may prove obvious intoxication using:

    • The driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the crash
    • Receipts, credit card statements, and tabs that show how many drinks the driver consumed
    • Photographs and videos showing that the driver was obviously intoxicated
    • Social media posts made while the customer was intoxicated
    • Testimony from witnesses and police officers
    • Testimony from forensic and medical experts

Does a Bar Have Defenses to a Dram Shop Claim?

While bars and restaurants may have a variety of defenses to a dram shop lawsuit, two are the most important.

Safe Harbor Defense

The safe harbor defense helps bars and restaurants avoid dram shop liability by providing adequate training and systems that protect against overserving. To fall under the law’s safe harbor, the bar owner must show that:

    • All employees attend a Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC) seller training program
    • The employee that overserved the drunk driver participated in this program
    • The employer or bar owner did not encourage or pressure its employees to violate the rules

If the establishment meets these requirements, it cannot be punished for overserving a patron.

While the safe harbor defense is powerful, dram shop victims can still overcome it by showing that not all of the bar’s employees were properly certified, that servers and bartenders were pressured to place profits above safety, or that it has a well-documented history of TABC violations.

Comparative Fault

In 2007, the Texas Supreme Court issued a decision in FFP Operating Partners v. Duenez, and dramatically changed the landscape of Texas dram shop claims. In the past, bars and restaurants were vicariously liable for their misconduct and the drunk driver’s actions. However, in Duenez, the court determined that, in most cases, the bar or restaurant is proportionately liable for the harm they caused.

For example, suppose a bar serves an 18-year old multiple alcoholic drinks. The young person then tries to drive home. While speeding and texting, they run a red light and crash into another car. If a jury weighed all of the evidence and determined that the young driver was 65% at fault for the crash and that the bar’s overserving was 35% to blame, the business must cover 35% of the victims’ damages.

However, there is an exception to this rule. If the jury decides that the bar was more than 50% at fault for the crash, they are responsible for all of the victim’s damages.

Crosley Law Stands Up for Victims of Drunk Driving

At Crosley Law, we help clients pursue all avenues of compensation after a drunk driving crash. Sometimes, that means filing a personal injury claim against the driver and a dram shop liability claim against a bar or restaurant.

If you believe that a bar or restaurant’s negligence contributed to your drunk driving injuries, contact our experienced attorneys. Fill out our online contact form or call us at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 today to get started.


F.F.P. Operating Partners, L.P. v. Duenez. 237 S.W.3d 680 (Tex. 2007).

Smith v. Sewell. 858 S.W.2d 350 (Tex. 1993).

Tex. Alco. Bev. Code §2.02 (1987). Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/AL/htm/AL.2.htm

Texas Department of Transportation. (2019, August). Texas motor vehicle crash statistics: Cumulative crash statistics 2003–2018. Austin, TX: Texas Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.txdot.gov/government/enforcement/annual-summary.html

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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