Overview of First Party Dram Shop Cases Under Texas Law

Texas Dram Shop law holds bars financially responsible for injuries and death caused by the improper service of alcohol. However, the law delineates into two distinct categories of dram shop case: first party and third party cases. In this article, we will cover first party cases only.

In a nutshell, first party cases are those where person whom the bar over-served, is also the injured party. In other words, if a customer goes to a bar and is unlawfully provided alcohol by the bar, the bar is liable for injuries sustained by that customer.

Texas law allows victims of drunk driving to sue the bar that over-served the driver. These victims can include the driver themselves. The idea of these suits is to hold liable the negligent bar for any injuries that resulted from the fact that they chose to sell more alcohol to someone who was already drunk who then later caused an injury.

Often, these cases involve an injured motorist who was struck by another driver who was drunk. Nonetheless, the law that dram shop cases are based on does not require that there be an injured third party. In simplified terms, Dram Shop Act requires only

  • A provider, like a bar or restaurant,
  • served alcohol to someone even though they were obviously intoxicated,
  • and injuries to an individual were proximately caused by the alcohol.

Nothing in the statute mandates that another party be involved. Therefore, the same rules apply when an individual is themselves overserved alcohol and later is injured or killed. The same justifications for third-person dram shop cases apply to first-person cases:

  • Bars and restaurants have a financial interest in selling as much alcohol as possible. Society’s interest is to have safe roads. By holding alcohol providers liable for their negligence, we more closely align their financial interests with society’s.
  • Bars and restaurants are often the last possible defense we have against drunk driving. When these establishments see their patrons already intoxicated, they know that there is a good chance that person could get behind the wheel later. We want them to reduce the dangers drunk driving can cause.

Do First-Person Dram Shop Cases Work?

One problem that first-person dram shop cases face is that the person who consumed the alcohol was likely at least somewhat responsible for their own drinking. This can certainly reduce a first-party plaintiff’s recovery, and in some cases can outright bar it. Under Texas Supreme Court precedent, first-person plaintiffs must not be found to be more than 50% responsible for their own accident. This might seem like it would easily exempt most plaintiffs from being able to recover for their losses, but it doesn’t. In our more than 23 years of representing victims in dram shop cases, we have been able to recover for numerous first-person victims and their families. The key is being able to prove that the bar or restaurant was thoroughly negligent in overserving you or your family member. Having the top-notch investigative and legal skills of Grossman Law Offices’ attorneys on your side will be vital in this process.

Under what scenarios could a first-person plaintiff recover?

  • A woman goes to a bar where the bartender knows she’s underage. He serves her anyway, even though he knows it’s against the law and TABC regulations. She is served 5 drinks containing triple shots of 150-proof liquor. The alcohol takes its effect and the woman begins slurring her words, falling off the bar stool, and becoming belligerent. Before she leaves, the bartender (who has been drinking himself, also against TABC regulations) gives her another shot of liquor. She gets into her car, drunkenly backs out into traffic without looking, and is killed by an oncoming car. The bar behaved about as negligently as possible, the accident happened because of the alcohol, and her death occurred soon after her ingestion of the drinks. Her family would likely be able to bring a first-person dram shop case.
  • A man arrives at a bar and appears intoxicated. He is given more alcohol, although the bar cuts him off at some point. He leaves the bar and about an hour later crashes his car into a wall after falling asleep and dies. His loved ones may have a claim for a first-person dram shop case. It will depend on how obviously intoxicated the man was at the time he was still being served alcohol, as well as how well we can connect the injury to the alcohol. There could be a problem with the fact that he was able to drive for an hour–this tends to show he wasn’t that intoxicated.
  • A completely sober man goes into a bar and orders a drink. Due to medication he is taking, he becomes quite inebriated. The bar lets him leave and the bar’s valet gives him his keys, even though he is clearly drunk. As soon as the man pulls away, he rams his bar into a tree and dies. Here, the family of the man would likely not have a first-person dram shop case because he wasn’t obviously intoxicated at the time they sold him alcohol.

Our law firm has handled a significant number of first-person dram shop cases. We know how to prove up every available fact and get compensation for those who have been overserved, or their families. Call us today to find out if you have a claim.

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