What is the Texas Dram Shop Act and What is it’s Purpose?
Texas has the rather dubious distinction of experiencing the highest number of fatal drunk driving accidents per year in the United States. With as many deaths that occur, many more serious injuries happen as a result of the grossly negligent behavior of a drunken driver.
In an effort to curb these devastating accidents from occurring with such a shocking regularity, lawmakers enacted Texas dram shop law in order to hold negligent alcohol-serving establishments accountable for their behavior in contributing to drunk driving accidents in Texas. However, Texas liquor liability laws can be confusing, and there are many misconceptions about Texas dram shop law. The following informative article can help you better understand Texas dram shop law.
If you’ve been injured as a result of a drunk driving wreck, or if you’ve lost a loved one due to a drunk driving accident, you may be able to seek compensation for your injury or loss from both the liable driver and a negligent bar or restaurant. The Dallas drunk driving accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have helped hundreds of individuals seek compensation for their injury or loss through a Texas dram shop cause of action. Furthermore, we’ve helped these clients seek justice for their injury or loss against such negligent bars or restaurants and the drunk drivers that caused their pain.
What is Texas Dram Shop Law?
The unique legal term “dram shop” comes from the colonial era in America when alcohol shops sold drinks by the dram, a unit of liquid measurement. Many states have laws known as dram shop laws, although their power and level of enforcement vary from state to state. Eight states have no dram shop laws at all. Texas does have dram shop laws, and they are enforced to a great degree in an effort to cut down on the number of fatal drunk driving accidents in Texas, as well as drunk driving accidents that result in severe personal injury. The crux of the argument for or against dram shop laws is whether or not an alcohol-serving establishment should be held partially liable for another entity’s decision to drink and drive. The states that have dram shop causes of action believe that a negligent bar or restaurant does, in fact, bear some responsibility for allowing a patron to become intoxicated who may then cause an injurious or fatal drunk driving accident. The states that do not have dram shop causes of action believe that the drunk driver is solely responsible for their negligent behavior.
Texas liquor liability laws hold that an alcohol-serving establishment can be held partially liable for a drunk driving wreck resulting in an injury or a death if that bar or restaurant over-serves an obviously intoxicated patron such that they exceed the legal blood alcohol content level of .08%. In other words, if a patron is allowed to become intoxicated at a restaurant, continues to be served, and is then allowed to drive off from the restaurant, and that patron causes an accident (causing injury or death to others or even to himself), the restaurant can be another defendant in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, in addition to the drunken driver.
Why is Texas Dram Shop Law Important?
In addition to working to hold such negligent establishments accountable for their behavior that contributes to a Texas drunken driving accident, Texas dram shop law helps an injured victim or a bereaved family to be able to seek compensation that is commensurate with their incurred damages. Drunk driving accidents can cause an extensive amount of damage which often results in financial losses that are much greater than those incurred in otherwise normal automobile accidents. Fatalities are much more likely to occur in drunk driving wrecks than in auto accidents that do not involve alcohol. Even in drunk driving crashes that do not involve a fatality, a sustained personal injury can be quite severe, resulting in a victim possibly needing life-long medical care, or a victim not being able to return to work. In all of these instances, the financial losses experienced by a victim or a victim’s family will likely be quite great. By holding the negligent bar or restaurant partially liable for a drunk driving wreck through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, an aggrieved party can stand to be fully compensated for their injury or loss since at least two defendants will likely be involved in the case.
Proximate Cause in Texas Dram Shop Cases
In a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, proximate cause is the legal term that describes a liable party that was not the direct cause of an accident. In other words, a proximate cause is a liable party that played a contributing role to an accident causing injury or death. For example, in Texas liquor liability cases, a negligent bar or restaurant would be considered a proximate cause to a victim’s injury or a bereaved family’s loss. Although the bar was not involved in the actual drunk driving accident, they still played a role in contributing to the accident’s occurrence. There can be multiple proximate causes for an accident depending on the circumstances of the crash. As such, it’s vital toward the outcome of your case that all liable parties are correctly identified so that they can be held accountable for their negligence.
Can I Just Sue the Bar?
If the injured or deceased party was the drunk driver in your case, see this article on first-party dram shop cases for more information. Texas liquor liability laws do not hold a bar wholly liable for a drunk driving accident. Put another way, a negligent alcohol-serving establishment will only ever bear partial liability for a drunken driving accident in Texas. This is because the bar or restaurant has only played a contributing role in regards to the accident. The drunk driver is still a liable party, and will likely be held to be mostly responsible for the accident. However, Texas dram shop law allows an injured victim or a bereaved family to seek compensation from both entities. Still, each entity will only be responsible for awarding compensation to the plaintiff based on their portion of liability for the drunken driving wreck.
For example, let’s assume that a drunk driver struck and killed a person on I-35 in Dallas. The total amount of damages incurred by the decedent and the decedent’s family totals $1,000,000. The drunk driver is found to be 70% responsible for the wreck, and a negligent bar is discovered to be 30% responsible for contributing to the driver’s drunkenness. The driver would be asked to award the plaintiff $700,000, while the bar would be asked to award the plaintiff $300,000. In other words, a bar cannot be held wholly liable for the plaintiff’s million-dollars in damages. They will only be liable for their percentage of liability. Seeking compensation from both liable parties is integral to a Texas dram shop case since it can greatly assist in ensuring that an aggrieved party can stand to receive compensation that is commensurate with their incurred damages. Furthermore, seeking legal action against each liable party ensures that they’re being held accountable for their negligent behavior so that a similar type of accident doesn’t have to cause further harm to another individual or family.
Are Texas Dram Shop Laws Fair?
Some people disagree with the notion of Texas liquor liability laws since they believe that an alcohol-serving establishment should not be held responsible for an adult’s decisions. However, drunk individuals are not in a state of mind to be able to ascertain whether or not they can actually drive safely. As such, the responsibility for public safety then falls onto the entity responsible for allowing a person to become intoxicated. Texas dram shop laws were written in order to help prevent possible drunk driving accidents from occurring by attempting to thwart the process from an early point that often leads to fatal drunk driving accidents. Consequently, Texas liquor liability laws require bartenders and servers to be watchful of their patrons’ alcohol consumption so that intoxication does not occur. In some cases, bars and restaurants can even be held partially liable for a drunk driving accident even if a patron shows no outer or readily-apparent signs of drunkenness. Certain tracking methods should be in place such that a server or bartender knows the amount and type of alcohol that is being consumed by their patrons such that they are not allowed to become drunk and subsequently allowed to drive.
Drunk Driving Accidents in Texas
The legal blood alcohol content level for Texas is .08%. If a person has a BAC in excess of .08%, the potential that an accident may occur increases exponentially due to the possibility of them inflicting harm to themselves or to others. Consequently, a bartender or server cannot legally serve alcohol to an already intoxicated individual since that individual is already breaking the law by being drunk in public. Such an intoxicated person, who may pose a danger to themselves and others even when walking around, poses an even greater risk when they assume control of a car.
The signs of drunkenness are often easily perceived: slurred speech, drowsiness, an inability to maintain balance, aggressiveness, slow reflexes, a lack of inhibitions, or cloudy judgement. Taken as a whole, these are qualities that a driver should not possess to any degree. When a person is intoxicated, they are seldom likely to make a reasonable judgment as to their ability to drive. Consequently, bars and restaurants must do their best in order to prevent such an intoxicated patron from driving. Responsible alcohol-serving establishments will have well-trained staff that know the signs of intoxication and that work together to ensure that their patrons’ safety is looked after. A manager should have experience in deflating possible intoxication issues by offering food or by denying drink service should intoxication be suspected. Many bars and restaurants also offer certain incentives for using designated drivers, or they’ll have partnerships set up with cabs and taxis in town. Texas dram shop lawsuits are a financial and marketing nightmare for many bars and restaurants, as they know that they could stand to lose a lot of money in a Texas liquor liability civil suit, in addition to the negative publicity they’re likely to receive as a result of being connected to an injurious or fatal drunk driving accident in Texas.
It should also be noted that bars and restaurants cannot claim ignorance in regards to Texas dram shop law. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, known as the TABC, requires that alcohol-serving establishments have their servers licensed with the state. Such licensure comes as a result of a seminar that fully explains the legal ramifications of negligent alcohol-serving. If a bartender over-serves a patron in order to earn a heftier tip, then later pleads ignorance in regards to a possible Texas dram shop cause of action, such a claim will fall on deaf ears, as the server will have to have known about the possible repercussions for over-serving alcohol because the server had been licensed. If the server had not been licensed to serve alcohol, then a negligent bar has an even greater problem.
The Safe Harbor Defense
Bars or restaurants accused of negligent behavior in a Texas liquor liability case have one defensive method at their disposal known as the Trained Server defense (AKA the Safe Harbor defense). If the alcohol-serving establishment can prove that they followed the guidelines as previously mentioned in this article, such that they did everything within reason to prevent a drunk patron from driving while intoxicated, then the establishment can argue their release from liability through the Safe Harbor Defense. Most bars or restaurants that have been named as a defendant in a Texas dram shop case will attempt to use this defense. Even bars that have been negligent may attempt to use this defense in the hope that a plaintiff will not be able to further investigate their claim. However, the Dallas drunk driving accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices will be sure to investigate such a claim in order to see if a possible negligent bar or restaurant did indeed do all that they could in order to prevent a drunk driver from getting on the roads.
Contact Dallas Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Michael Grossman
Drunk driving accidents cause untold amounts of pain and loss in Texas on nearly every day of the year. The physical, emotional, and mental turmoil of such an accident is often accompanied by mountains of debt like medical bills and lost wages. The Texas drunken driving accident lawyers at Grossman Law Offices can help you stand to receive compensation for those incurred damages through a Texas dram shop lawsuit. However, the longer you wait to contact an experienced legal professional, the more likely it is that vital evidence may not be able to be located. As time passes, evidence goes missing. Some evidence may even be stolen or otherwise manipulated by those that would rather not be held accountable for their actions. Often, the sooner that we’re able to start investigating a Texas drunk driving accident after it has occurred, the better likelihood we have of being able to build a strong and robust case on your behalf.
Seeking compensation on your own against a drunk driver and a negligent alcohol-serving establishment will likely lead you to little to no compensation. Texas dram shop law is simply too complex for a non-attorney to be able to effectively apply it to a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
We’ve helped hundreds of victims just like you over the last twenty years, and we’re well-versed in the aspects of Texas dram shop law. Contact us at 1-855-326-0000 for a toll-free legal consultation. Ask questions; get answers. We’ll also inform you of your possible legal options. Our goal is to help you seek compensation so that you can recover from the financial losses experienced due to your injury or loss. Additionally, we’ll help you to make sure that the drunk driver and a negligent bar or restaurant are held accountable for their actions so that their negligent behavior does not have to result in further harm or loss to another individual or family.