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Under What Circumstances Can an Alcohol Provider Be Sued?

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

Under Texas law, licensed alcohol providers can be sued when they sell, serve, or provide alcohol to an obviously intoxicated customer whom they can tell is already dangerously drunk. This area of the law is known as Dram Shop law.

The most common scenario that leads to a dram shop lawsuit is when a bar or restaurant over-serves a customer who then causes a car accident resulting in injury or death. But car accidents aren't the only scenarios that can lead to a dram shop lawsuit. Naturally, this leads to a question: What are all the ways that a bar can become liable?

Answer: Under Texas law, an alcohol provider can be sued for virtually any type of injury under virtually any circumstances, so long as the injury was caused by the over-service of alcohol.

First and Third-Party Claims

Before we delve into the many scenarios where a bar can be served, there is a simple legal concept we need to cover. Dram shop lawsuits can either be categorized as "first-party" or "third-party" cases. A first-party dram shop lawsuit is one where the customer who was over-served is also the victim. A third-party dram shop case is one where the customer hurts an innocent third party victim.

In both cases, Texas law allows an alcohol provider to be sued. There are some differences in how a jury views a claim brought by an injured drinker and how they view one brought by a random third-party victim, but both claims are allowed under Texas law.

Dram Shop Lawsuits Are Not Just for Car Accidents

As stated, the most common scenario resulting in a dram shop lawsuit is a drunken driving wreck. Now, we'll go over a few scenarios (other than car accidents), for which a bar can be sued. The list below is not meant to be exhaustive, but it should give you a general idea of the kinds of things that can trigger a dram shop lawsuit.

  • Slip and fall due to intoxication A slip and fall accident occurs when a person falls and gets injured at an alcohol establishment due to the person being over-served. When a person is intoxicated, slip and fall injuries are usually more severe because alcohol affects their balance, reflexes, and motor skills. What that often means is that the intoxicated person cannot extend their arms in order to break their fall. So what would normally be a slip and fall resulting in a minor injury is amplified into a far more serious injury, like a traumatic brain injury.
  • Assault caused by intoxication Assault caused by intoxication is when a person gets drunk and physically harms another person.
  • Alcohol poisoning Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person has been served so much alcohol that their vital organs begin to shut down. The signs of alcohol poisoning are vomiting, seizures, slow heart rate, unconsciousness, brain damage, and death. We have had cases where customers of bars have been served so much alcohol that they simply slumped over and died in their seat. Naturally, when such an egregious degree of over-service occurs, the alcohol provider can be sued.
  • Pedestrian accidents due to intoxication Pedestrian accidents can happen when a drunk driver hits a person who is walking or crossing the street. These accidents also happen when a drunken pedestrian wanders into the path of a vehicle. In either event, if the accident was caused by intoxication, a bar may be held liable.
  • Sexual assault due to intoxication Sexual assault due to intoxication can happen a couple of different ways. One way is when a person gets drunk and then goes and rapes someone. Another way is when a person is sexually assaulted and because they are so intoxicated, they don't know what is happening and cannot defend themselves.
  • Self-inflicted injuries due to intoxication An accidental self-inflicted injury is when a person has no intention of hurting themselves, but because they are intoxicated they end up doing exactly that. When a person is drunk they often have impaired judgment and motor skills. This means that the person can put themselves in dangerous situations that they normally wouldn't have had they been sober. A prime example would be someone who goes to a bar, gets over-served, and then tries to balance on the rail of a balcony, resulting in a fall. If the person would not have done such a reckless activity while sober, that could be grounds for a dram shop lawsuit.

Are There Any Other Scenarios?

What we've listed above reflects what we have seen in our firm's docket of cases. But is it possible there are other scenarios not listed above that could result in a dram shop lawsuit against an alcohol provider? Of course.

The bottom line is this, any time a person is served to a dangerous level of intoxication and that results in an injury or fatality to the drinker or to someone else, there is probably good cause to sue the alcohol provider.

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