With any type of personal injury or wrongful death case, a person who wishes to sue has a short window of time to do so. The point at which this window closes is called the statute of limitations. Once the statute of limitations has expired, a lawsuit can no longer be filed, and the case basically evaporates. But what is the statute of limitations in a Texas dram shop case?
Answer: The statute of limitations in a Texas dram case is two years from the date of injury or death, subject to some technicalities.
Statute of Limitations in a Dram Shop Personal Injury Case
TWO-YEAR LIMITATIONS PERIOD.
(a) ...a person must bring suit for . . . personal injury . . . not later than two years after the day the cause of action accrues.Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003 (a)
In a dram shop personal injury case, the statute of limitations is two years from the date the injury is incurred.
Example: Ricardo is injured in an accident when a drunk driver blows through a stop sign and T-bones his car. The accident happened on February 1, 2025, Ricardo must file suit by February 1, 2027, or his personal injury case simply disappears.
Statute of Limitations in a Dram Shop Wrongful Death Case
1) A victim's family may sue for wrongful death for a period of two years after the victim has died.
2) But only if the statute of limitations for the victim's underlying personal injury case has not yet expired.The above rule is a synthesized rule combining: Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003 (b); Russell v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 841 S.W.2d 343, 348-49 (Tex. 1992)
In a dram shop wrongful death case, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of death, though it can be a little more complex than it may first appear.
Let's look at part 1 of the above rule. Then we'll delve into part 2.
Part 1 tells us that the the family of the victim has two years from the date that the victim died to file suit.
Example: Lauren is hit by a drunk driver and dies immediately in the crash. Her family decides to file suit a year and a half after Lauren's death. Since the two-year statute of limitations period has not yet expired, they are able to file suit without issue.
Example: On May 1, 2025, Miguel is killed in a drunken fall down the stairs after being over-served by a bar. His family waits until April 30, 2027 to hire a lawyer. Can they still sue? Yes. The statute of limitations period has not yet expired; but they have to file suit today. If they wait a single day longer, they have blown the statute of limitations and can not file suit.
Part 2 of the above rule says that the normal two year window in which the family can sue does not apply if the victim lived after their accident and let their personal injury statute of limitations expire.
Let's unpack that.
Most accident-related fatalities happen immediately. The victim is injured and dies in the same event. Since they're deceased, their right to sue for personal injuries dies with them, and their family members gain the right to sue for wrongful death. In the most common scenario, the victim dies, and the two-year statute of limitations period for the wrongful death case starts to run.
But sometimes the victim gets hurt, lives for a long time, and then dies. If they died before the statute of limitations for their personal injury case expires, then their family gains the right to sue for wrongful death, and the statute of limitations for that wrongful death case is two years from the date of death. But if they get hurt, live long enough to let their personal injury statute of limitations expire, and then they die, their family cannot pursue a wrongful death case.
Example: Mark is injured in a drunk driving crash on January 1st. Despite his injuries, he lives for another three years and then dies. Mark's family decides they want to file a wrongful death suit. Unfortunately, it's too late. Even though it is still less than two years since his death—which might make you think the wrongful death statute of limitations hasn't expired—the personal injury statute of limitations actually has expired already because, while Mark was still alive, he could have sued and didn't. Therefore, his family can't reset the clock and start a wrongful death case.
The rationale for that complex scenario is that, if a person is injured and lives more than two years after their accident, then they had plenty of time to file a personal injury lawsuit, and they should have done so while they were alive. By not filing within the two-year personal injury statute of limitations period while they were alive, they effectively waived their right to sue for injuries. And their family members don't get to then reset the clock.
How it Normally Works
The technicalities discussed above are real, but they are rarely at issue. Most people hire a lawyer quickly after an accident and file suit as soon as possible, thus avoiding any concerns about the statute of limitations.
When You File Suit, The Statute of Limitations No Longer Matters
As we now know, after an accident occurs there is a limited amount of time in which you can file suit. The good thing is, once you sue the alcohol provider in a dram shop case, the statute of limitations basically goes away. Even if the case takes years to litigate after you've file suit, the door can't close on you.
So, what's the takeaway? File suit as soon as you can and you never have to worry about blowing the statute of limitations and losing the right to sue.
How the Statute of Limitations Applies to Minors
The statute of limitations doesn't expire for minors until two years after their 18th birthday. This applies to both injury cases and wrongful death cases. The idea behind this rule is that a minor is not allowed to sue as a child, so it would be unfair to not allow them to sue when they become an adult.
But it's also worth noting that parents have the right to sue on behalf of a minor. So, if a parent never pursues the case for the minor, the minor can pursue it themselves when they turn 18. But if the parent neglects to pursue the case for the minor, the minor doesn't lose their right to sue while they're still too young to do anything about it.
Example: A man is killed in a drunk driving accident. He leaves behind a wife and two sons: Joe, who is 15, and Mark, who is 13. The victim's wife neglects to file a wrongful death suit and the statute of limitations expires. She blew the statute on her own case and is forever barred from suing. However, she didn't blow the statute for Joe and Mark. This is because the two-year statute of limitations period doesn't start to run until they turn 18.
Example: Jerome is 15 years old. He is hit by a drunk driver while riding his bike, suffering the loss of his right leg. Jerome's parents never file suit on Jerome's behalf. When he turns 19, he decides he wants to sue the drunk driver and the bar who over-served the drunk driver. Even though it has been about 4 years since his injury occurred, he can still file suit. Why? Because the two-year statute of limitations period doesn't start to run until his 18th birthday. It is only 1 year after his 18th birthday, so he still has the right to sue.
Calculating the time period for a statute of limitations is one of the easiest things a lawyer can be asked to do. However, as we've shown, it is still subject to complexities that can make it more difficult than it first appears.
If you are wondering if the statute of limitations in your dram shop case has expired, take the easy approach and simply call our office. Our skilled Texas dram shop attorneys will talk to you about your case and advise you as to whether you can still file suit. Call us any time, day or night.