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What Are the Civil & Criminal Penalties for Bars & Restaurants in Texas?

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

When Bars Break The Law, The TABC Can Punish Them

Elsewhere on this site, we've covered extensively how Texas law allows drunk driving accident victims to sue bars and restaurants provided that the establishment served a patron who was obviously intoxicated. Such lawsuits discourage bars from breaking the rules by taking the profit out of negligent alcohol service. However, this is not the only weapon available to sanction those bars who fail to obey the law. A government agency, known as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) also has the authority to punish bars in several different ways.

In this article, we will discuss some of the legal consequences that bars, restaurants, and other alcohol providers can face if they break the laws regarding alcohol service. These can include both civil and criminal penalties, including Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) fines, loss of the establishments's liquor license, or even time in prison for bartenders.

Questions Answered On This Page:

  • What does the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) do to punish bars?
  • What are the limitations of TABC sanctions against bars that break the rules?
  • Can I sue a bar if they served a drunk driver who hurt me or a loved one?

How TABC Investigations Work

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) is the state agency that creates and enforces safe alcohol sales regulations. Think of them as the "alcohol cops" for establishments that sell beer and liqour. While they often perform random inspections of establishments that sell alcohol, they also investigate when they've received information that an establishment has been breaking the rules. Examples include:

  • A patron was over-served and caused an accident
  • A minor was able to purchase alcohol from a liquor store
  • A minor was illegally served alcohol by a restaurant or bar
  • A fight broke out at a bar and the police noticed that obvious intoxication was widespread

Our experience with TABC officers and investigators has generally been very favorable. In the car and semi-truck accident cases our firm handles, for instance, we review police reports on a regular basis, and we've found that it's more or less a 50-50 shot as to whether or not the cop who made the report did a good job. By contrast, in the many dram shop lawsuits we've filed against bars, we've found that the overwhelming majority of TABC investigations are top notch. They really are good at their jobs. Unfortunately, there's a catch. Their investigators only have a chance to investigate bars who show up on their radar. Often times, the awesome employees of the TABC just never have a chance to do what they do best because no one ever tells them that a drunk person who caused an accident was drinking at a particular bar.

Ramifications After an Alcohol-Related Accident

If an establishment that serves alcohol was found to be in violation of any TABC rules and regulations during an inspection, TABC has the power to punish the businesses and/or people responsible for breaking the rules. TABC has three main remedies, or punishments, at their disposal to sanction licensed alcohol providers who disregard the law.

The three main TABC remedies are:

  • Fines. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will often levy fines against drinking establishments that violate liquor statues by, for example, over-serving alcohol to someone who's intoxicated. These fines tend to range from small, "slap-on-the-wrist" penalties, to severe fines large enough to send a bar, restaurant, or night club out of business. The threat of such fines (as well as the potential loss of a liquor license) serves as a deterrent to breaking the rules. But given the limited number of investigators available in proportion to the number of vendors, alcohol providers often view these TABC fines from a cost-benefit perspective, deciding that the marginal risk of large fines is worth the substantial additional revenues gained by serving more alcohol. What's more, it's customary for bars to negligently oversell alcohol for years and years until they're caught, if ever. For these reasons, it should be clear that a fine by itself is not always enough to motivate alcohol servers to do the right thing.
  • Liquor license revocation. Alternatively, the TABC can revoke a bar or restaurant's liquor license. Should the TABC's investigation uncover violations of Texas' liquor liability laws, they will generally take punitive action against the alcohol vendor. But quite often, the length of a liquor license suspension is too short: rather than fully punishing a negligent drinking establishment, the lax license-suspension policy frequently lets establishments continue to sell alcohol. Sometimes, even when sanctions are applied, the sanctions imposed on a bar only go as far as probation for a few months, meaning that all the bar will do is head back to its greedy, over-serving ways once that time is up. And even if the TABC imposes the ultimate sanction of revoking a vendor's liquor license, many bars may evade the punishment by "trading off" liquor licenses with friends and family members so that the institution can keep earning money - all under the TABC's nose.
  • Jail time. For truly egregious violations, bartenders can be put in jail. For example, if the bartender served someone who was already intoxicated, they may face up to a year in jail and a personal fine of $1,000. In their initial training, bartenders are more than made aware that they can be placed in jail if they flout these rules. Still, we've been practicing Dram Shop and drunk driving accident law for decades, and we can count the times we've seen this happen on one hand. For whatever reason, prosecutors and the TABC don't like putting negligent bartenders in jail and hardly ever pursue criminal charges.

Grossman Law Offices Can Help If You Were Injured By A Drunk Driver

While the TABC does a good job punishing bars, their job is to represent the state of Texas, not you individually. If you need money for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, only an experienced Dram Shop attorney can get that for you. We need to file suit, and we need to do so quickly before the defendant bar and servers have a chance to destroy the evidence your case needs.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a drunk driving or other alcohol-related accident, call Grossman Law Offices, based in Dallas, TX, at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation.

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