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Can Bars Be Liable for Alcohol Poisoning?

  • Last Updated: March 3rd, 2023
  • By: Mike Grossman
  • Dram Shop

The bar can be held responsible if they over-serve a patron and the patron suffers alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning, the act of over-serving a consumer of alcoholic beverages to the point of sickness or death, is an all-too-common scenario these days. When this occurs, the bar or establishment that over-served the patron may be held liable under Texas law.

Unlike many similar alcohol-related cases---like drunk driving accidents or a pedestrian drunkenly wanders into traffic---the actions of a bar, restaurant, or night club in an alcohol poisoning case directly caused the suing party's injuries or loss of life.

Below, Dallas dram shop attorney Michael Grossman talks about how victims and their families can recover financial compensation when a bar's over-service leads to alcohol poisoning.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • Who can be held responsible if someone suffers from alcohol poisoning after being over-served at a bar?
  • What does Texas law have to say about someone injured from alcohol poisoning?
  • What exactly is alcohol poisoning?

How alcohol poisoning happens

The impact of alcohol on the brain is well known. Certain neurotransmitters are impacted in such a way that the brain's inhibitors are turned down and the stimulative pathways are sped up.

Further, the brain releases dopamine---the substance that causes the "high" associated with drinking. Alcohol is a depressant which slows most of the brain down, inducing a calmness when consumed in moderate quantities.

However, the depressant effect, when induced in massive quantities in short duration, can lead to several fatal consequences:

  • When the body's functions slow down, the drinker passes out, and the stomach makes a last-ditch effort to expunge the alcohol left in the system. When the drinker vomits, he doesn't awaken. Because of intoxication, the gag reflex no longer works and the body cannot get rid of the vomit. The drinker then tragically chokes to death.
  • In even more extreme circumstances, the drinker has consumed so much alcohol so fast that the body's functions simply stop. The victim's organs stop working, breathing ceases, and heart rate plummets to deadly levels. The person then passes away.

When bars and restaurants cause alcohol poisoning, the dram shop laws can hold them responsible.

These senseless deaths happen far too often because providers of alcohol put profit over safety. Often, the victim is young and not used to drinking. We've known of cases where bartenders even target these individuals for over-service, knowing how much money they can make off of them by doing so.

What can their families do? They can file a dram shop lawsuit that alleges that the bar sold alcohol to the individual while he or she was already so intoxicated that they were a danger to themselves. Once this is proven in court, the bar could be forced to compensate the family for their financial and emotional losses. These include emotional pain and suffering, lost wages, and the medical bills that were incurred in their loved one's last days.

Alcohol poisoning, the dram shop laws, and minors.

Under Texas law, social hosts are not liable for serving alcohol to friends and family, even when it results in injuries or death. This means that house or dinner party hosts cannot be sued for serving anyone alcohol 18 and older.

However, the law does allow a minor's family to sue the private individual if they provide too much alcohol to a minor who then suffers alcohol poisoning. This is because adults are always liable for the negligent provision of alcohol to a minor when the minor is harmed as a result.

Here, unlike with adults in bars, there doesn't need to be a showing that the minor was already intoxicated when the alcohol was provided. Here are some examples we've seen:

  • For a birthday party of their child, two parents supply kegs of beer for the high school students attending the event. One young woman, who's not used to drinking, performs several keg stands and imbibes a massive amount of alcohol. She later passes out, her body begins shutting down, and she dies.
  • The "cool parents" leave their son and his girlfriend at home for the evening. They leave a bottle of vodka for the pair and tell them to enjoy themselves. The girlfriend drinks the equivalent of 12 drinks, loses consciousness, and later chokes on her own vomit.

In each case, the parents of the young girl would have dram shop claims against the other parents for the loss of their child.

How dram shop cases involving alcohol poisoning are different from other dram shop incidents

Whenever a victim seeks to recover compensation in a dram shop case, they must show that an alcohol serving establishment served an obviously intoxicated person. Invariably the establishment will argue that they did not know the person was intoxicated at the time of the over-service, because the patron did not exhibit any signs of intoxication.

When the injuries that a patron sustains are the result of alcohol poisoning, this argument is next to impossible for them to make. Except in the rarest of circumstances, alcohol poisoning occurs at between 2 and 5 times the legal limit for alcohol service. This means that a person has to be so drunk before alcohol poisoning to occur that it is implausible that no one should have known that the person should no longer be served.

Alcohol poisoning does not occur when someone is tipsy, or a little drunk; it only occurs when someone is absolutely fall-down, near black out drunk. This does not mean that a bar won't try and argue that a person didn't appear drunk, but even making this argument shows that they had no idea what the heck was going on with the patron and were serving irresponsibly.

When a medical expert, who specializes in the effects of alcohol on the body, is brought in to testify about alcohol poisoning, it further undermines a bar's story that they couldn't tell a person was intoxicated.

Seek justice against dram shops and social hosts with Grossman Law Offices.

Whether the claim involves the representation of a child who was harmed due to alcohol poisoning, or an adult who was over-served by a negligent alcohol vendor, Texas law grants injured persons and their families the means to pursue a lawsuit against those who unlawfully serve alcohol.

To successfully pursue a Texas dram shop case requires effective legal representation and Grossman Law Offices has represented hundreds of injured Texans of the years. In, fact, Grossman Law Offices has handled more dram shop lawsuits than almost any other law firm in Texas.

If you believe that you, or a loved one has been injured due to unlawful alcohol service, contact us at (855) 326-0000 whenever it is most convenient for you. Your consultation with us is free of fees and completely private, so you can reach out to us in confidence, comfort, and certainty, knowing that Grossman Law Offices wants to make this matter as equitable and fair for you as possible.

Other articles about Texas dram shop cases that may be helpful:

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