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.
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.
Related ArticlesView All Blog Articles
Leg Pain After a Car Accident: 6 Possible CausesDec 30, 2020
Leg pain is very common after a car accident, but it can have many causes. Unfortunately, many crash survivors assume that their pain is “just bumps and bruises” and that it will go away on its own. However, that dull or shooting pain may be a sign of a severe injury, like a herniated disc […]
Can I Get Punitive Damages After a Car Accident in Texas?Dec 15, 2020
Maybe you’ve heard of “punitive damages” as something that might be awarded by a court. However, these monetary damages can seem like a myth — they’re fairly rare, and not many people who aren’t lawyers understand when and how courts award them. This blog article will explain what punitive damages are and outline when and […]
Delayed Neck Pain After a Car Accident: What It MeansDec 09, 2020
At first, you didn’t think the car wreck was that bad. The driver behind you was texting and driving, and because they weren’t paying attention, they rammed their vehicle into the back of your car. Your head snapped back and forth upon impact, but other than that seemingly minor injury, you walked away from the […]
How to Talk to a Telehealth Doctor About Your Car Accident InjuriesNov 25, 2020
As Texas grapples with COVID-19, many of us are wondering whether we should go to the doctor. Whether you’re worried about exposure to the coronavirus or using up valuable medical resources, we understand your concern. However, if you have injuries from a car accident, you must get the medical care you desperately need. People are […]
Whiplash vs. Concussion: What’s the Difference?Nov 18, 2020
Concussions and whiplash are two of the most common injuries during a car accident. Many of the symptoms of the two conditions overlap, including headache, neck pain, and concentration and memory problems. Since these injuries can appear similar, how do you get a clear diagnosis and the treatment you need? At Crosley Law, we’ve handled […]
Why Is Drowsy Driving So Dangerous?Nov 04, 2020
Drowsy driving is one of the most common (and underreported) causes of car accidents. While many of us understand the dangers of drunk or distracted driving, we don’t realize that fatigue and drowsiness carry a similar risk level. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one out of ten car crashes involves a tired […]
How to Claim Lost Wages and Income From a Car AccidentAug 27, 2020
In a split second, a car accident can turn your whole life upside down. Not only do you have to deal with a wrecked car, but you may also have to deal with serious physical and emotional injuries. The after-effects of the crash may even prevent you from working and earning a wage. If you […]
What Happens if You Get In an Accident With a Delivery Driver?Jul 28, 2020
If your neighborhood is like ours, you probably see a daily stream of delivery trucks and drivers pass by. Due to COVID-19, more and more people are ordering items and food online; the number of delivery drivers on San Antonio’s roads has skyrocketed to meet our demand. More delivery drivers and tight deadlines are a […]
What Is the Eggshell Skull Rule?Jun 30, 2020
Imagine driving down the road on a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. You bring your car to a stop at a red light. Then, out of nowhere, you feel a sudden impact from the rear of your vehicle. You’ve been rear-ended. Luckily, the seatbelt lock engaged and held you in […]
How to Protect Your Child After a Serious Car AccidentJun 23, 2020
Car crashes remain one of the top causes of serious childhood injuries and deaths. Tragically, Texas consistently has one of the highest childhood car wreck fatality rates in the country. In 2018 alone, 172 kids under the age of 18 died in car crashes in our state. At Crosley Law, our hearts break every time […]
Do you or a family member
need legal advice?
Crosley Law Firm, PC is a professional corporation of trial lawyers focused on representing individuals and families who have suffered serious personal injuries or wrongful death. If you’ve been injured, fill out the form for a free consultation, or call 210-LAW-3000.