How Police Officer Testimony Impacts a Texas Dram Shop Case
Police officers are often the first people to talk to intoxicated defendants following an accident. In any civil lawsuit resulting from a drunk driving accident, the testimony of the arresting officer can be extremely important, especially if you bring forward a lawsuit against the bar or restaurant who served the drunk driver.
You see, whenever you've been hurt or someone else has been killed in a car wreck with a drunken driver, you can seek compensation from the drinking establishment where the driver became intoxicated - provided they violated Texas law regarding alcohol sales and service. This is called a dram shop claim.
In this article, Texas dram shop attorney Michael Grossman discusses how police officer testimony impacts a dram shop case.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- Can the testimony of a police officer help my dram shop case?
- How does a police officer testimony affect my Texas dram shop case?
- Can the testimony of a police officer be used in my drunk driving case?
How Dram Shop Cases Work
Dram shop lawsuits play an important role in reducing the amount of drunken driving accidents in Texas by giving drinking establishments significant monetary incentive for serving alcohol responsibly. Moreover, dram shop lawsuits enable the drunken driving victim to have a better chance of securing the compensation he or she needs to remedy the damage done by the accident, for not all drunken drivers will be able to afford the damages on their own.
In Texas, bars and restaurants are expected to keep an eye on patrons as they serve them. When someone becomes obviously intoxicated, the drinking establishment is supposed to cut off service and take action to make sure the patron will not be driving. Thus, proving the drinking establishment failed in this respect is an essential part of every dram shop lawsuit. To be successful, you must be able to convince the court that the bartenders or wait staff of the bar or restaurant should have been able to detect the driver's drunkenness before he or she got behind the wheel.
Proving the Drunken Driver Appeared Intoxicated
Proving that a drunken driver who caused an accident was actually intoxicated isn't that challenging. When a vehicular accident results in injury or death and alcohol is suspected to have played a role, the state of Texas calls for all of the drivers involved to be subjected to mandatory blood tests with or without the driver's consent.
However, after being injured by a drunken driver, it's not enough just to prove that the driver was intoxicated. You're going to have to prove that he or she was so intoxicated that a reasonable person should have noticed that he or she was drunk. For this purpose, the testimony of the arresting officer plays an integral role.
How the Officer's Testimony Can Help
Consumption of alcohol has a negative effect on both physical behavior and appearance as well as mental ability. When someone is intoxicated, his or her physical appearance may be altered by blood-shoot eyes, dilated pupils, and the smell of alcohol on the breath, or in severe cases, seeping out of the body in sweat. His or her behavior may be affected by erratic driving, slurred speech, and the inability to balance properly when walking or standing.
Thus, the testimony of the officer who made the arrest can help demonstrate how the servers in the drinking establishment should have been able to detect outward signs of intoxication in the patron before continuing to serve him or her and then letting him or her drive home.
For example, a police officer responds to a call reporting a collision at an intersection in your city's downtown area. When he arrives at the scene, he discovers one of the drivers is still in his car severely injured, while the other exhibits no outward signs of injury but is hunched over on the sidewalk, vomiting. Paramedics arrive to tend to the injured man, so the officer questions the other driver. When the officer approaches this man, the police officer is struck by the strong stench of alcohol rising from the mess at his feet. In response to the presence of the officer, the man rights himself, revealing bloodshot eyes as the light from the streetlamp above hits his face.
Although the man denies being intoxicated when asked, he slurs his words as he answers the officer's questions, and he sways back and forth while standing, like he's a small tree blowing gently in the breeze. The driver claims to be coming from a movie, but he's wearing a wristband from a local club. When asked to perform roadside sobriety tests, the suspected intoxicated driver performs very poorly, so the officer decides to have his Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) tested, revealing the man to be well over the legal limit of .08 BAC.
In this instance, many of the indicators of intoxication that the officer observed should have been noticeable to the servers of the club where he had been drinking - slurring words, bloodshot eyes, inability to balance, and the stench of alcohol on his breath. Moreover, in this particular example, the presence of the wristband, color-coded by day, demonstrates that the driver was in the particular club on that particular night.
While some habitual alcoholics can conceal the effect intoxication has on them, virtually everyone will show some outward sign of intoxication. A police officer who can testify to observing these signs can be just as helpful in establishing a claim after a bar fight as an accident. If you were attacked by a drunken patron who has a history of physically abusing others in a certain drinking establishment, then you may have just as valid of a drunken driving claim, as if he or she hit you with a Ford instead of a fist.
In most cases, you will need the assistance of an experienced dram shop attorney in order to be able to make the most of the arresting officer's eye-witness account of the driver's obvious intoxication. First, and most importantly, you need someone who knows that the police officer must be added to the list of expert witnesses in order to be able to testify about the intoxicated driver at all. This sounds like a simple step, but you don't want to know how many cases are ruined because the police officer can only testify to the facts of the arrest and not his or her observations about the suspect.
Second, only an experienced lawyer knows the right questions to ask the arresting officer that could help prove the obvious intoxication of the driver. You don't want to leave any stones unturned in the investigation or make the mistake of turning to an attorney who specializes in some other facet of law and doesn't know what questions to ask.
We're here to help, when you're ready to talk.
At Grossman Law Offices, we've spent 25 years litigating dram shop cases, and we've questioned and deposed law enforcement from local police departments, the Department of Public Safety, and all over the state of Texas. We know how to draw out the arresting officer's testimony that can help you prove the driver who injured you or killed your loved one was noticeably intoxicated - if the facts of the case merit that conclusion.
Call us now for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free) to learn more about how we can help or just to ask any questions you may have about the testimony of law enforcement in your case.
Other articles about Texas dram shop cases that may be helpful:
- When Can I Recover Punitive Damages in Texas Dram Shop Litigation?
- Are Bars Ever Liable for Slip and Fall Injuries that Result from Unlawful Alcohol Service?
- Can Liquor Stores Be Liable for Selling Alcohol to an Obviously Intoxicated Person?