Third Party Dram Shop Case - Step 1: We take the steps to preserve your right to sue.
As soon as a drunk driving accident occurs, the clock starts ticking down on a victim's right to pursue a Texas dram shop lawsuit. While it is obviously not the first thing on someone's mind when they have been seriously injured in a drunk driving accident, the days and weeks immediately following the accident are absolutely crucial to a victim taking steps to preserve their rights to file a Texas shop lawsuit against a bar or restaurant that over-served an obviously intoxicated person.
At some point after an accident, the need for an attorney becomes quite apparent. Attorneys are necessary preserve any potential dram shop case that you might have. It's extremely important to remember that every day that passes could lead to lost or destroyed evidence that is vital pursuing a successful case against the negligent bar or restaurant.
In this article, experienced dram shop attorney Michael Grossman highlights the steps to we take to preserve you right to file a lawsuit under the Texas Dram Shop Act.
If you are interested in the other steps of pursuing a third-party Texas Dram shop case they are as follows:
Questions answered on this page:
- Why is getting an attorney as soon as possible crucial to my Texas Dram Shop Case?
- What challenges get in the way when searching for the bar who over-served the driver?
- What legal steps can we take before the suit to get information?
The process must begin quickly.
While the last thing that most people think about when they, or a loved one, are injured in an accident is retaining an attorney, it is crucial to any lawsuit to retain one as soon as possible. The bedrock of any lawsuit is evidence. From the moment an accident occurs evidence starts to degrade. Accident sites are cleaned up. Witnesses start to disappear back into their normal lives. If a bar or restaurant is aware that it was their unlawful alcohol service, which may be to blame, many times they will begin to destroy damning evidence, such as receipts and surveillance video. Even if their is no malicious intent, evidence starts disappearing.
A Texas dram shop lawsuit is not merely a matter of making an accusation that a bar served an obviously intoxicated person who later caused injury to others, but using evidence to prove that case. Without evidence, even the most deserving injury claim does not stand a chance of leading to a victim receiving compensation.
Another important consideration is that Texas law places a 2 year statute of limitations on most injury claims, including those brought under a dram shop cause of action. Two years may sound like a lot of time, but the fact of the matter is that the more time an an experience dram shop attorney has to investigate a case, and the sooner that investigation starts, the great the chance is that a victim can recover compensation for their injuries.
How a dram shop attorney preserves your case.
The first thing and attorney does after being hired on in a Texas dram shop case is to go about the process of determining where the drunk driver procured their alcohol. Sadly, a some of the time the person was either drinking at home or at a private residence with friends. In those cases, unless someone was charging for drinks, the Texas dram shop act does not apply and the only person to pursue is the drunk driver.
However, in many instances, the drunk driver was served while intoxicated at a bar, restaurant, or liquor store. In these cases it is crucial to identify who sold alcohol to the drunk driver, because that person will be the defendant in your dram shop case.
If you would like to know more about this process, please read How We Identify the Establishment Who Unlawfully Served an Intoxicated Person.
Once we have identified the bar, we send over a "letter of representation" and a "spoliation letter" to the bar. These letters make the bar aware that it is under investigation, so to speak, for the accident. The bar is instructed in explicit detail what it may and may not destroy. This might seem unnecessary, but in our over-two-decades of experience, we have seen bars and restaurants try to destroy damaging material evidence when they know something serious has happened. By putting them on notice that they face serious legal consequences for such nefarious behavior, we can require them to keep safe all the records that could possibly help your case.
Bars and restaurants also need to be on notice to keep these records safe because they are notorious for routinely destroying them anyhow. These establishments are not entities like banks, hospitals, or law firms that must keep records for years before destroying them. They are businesses that make and spend money very quickly and have no need, nor law requiring, their records' preservation. This is why we would send them a certified letter immediately making them aware of their new obligations.
To those unfamiliar with how the law works, a spoliation letter may not seem like big deal, after all, "How is a letter going to keep someone from destroying evidence?" It's a fair question and the answer is that if a bar or restaurant receives a letter of spoliation and destroys evidence anyway, those actions will be held against them by the judge. The judge in the case has a variety of remedies from allowing the defense to present what they believe the evidence actually showed all the away up to awarding a summary (immediate) judgment for the plaintiff, because they most likely would have been able to win their case if the evidence had not been destroyed. That is why spoliation letters are a very big deal and why having an attorney who can send one out shortly after an accident is crucial to your case.
We need to get the policeman's statements.
Long before a formal police report has come out, we will interview the police officer to get his or her side of the story. What did the officer see? Did the driver appear drunk? What did the driver say? Making sure we get this evidence in hand as soon as possible after the accident in case it will be beneficial down the road. The police encounter many of these accidents, and countless other tragedies and crimes. No one could be expected to remember every detail months or a year down the road if the case makes it to trial. Further, knowing what the police officer saw and heard can provide us the clues we need to subpoena other records and witnesses. We would get to the police officer fast to obtain whatever help he or she could provide.
Additionally, police officer testimony tends to carry more weight with juries than many other forms of testimony. Most of the time, the police officer is unbiased in that they have no connection to either party in the case. They are also one of the first witnesses to any accident, meaning they form the first clear-headed impressions of a case.
We then seek out other witnesses.
Bars and restaurants have extremely high turnover. Their employees are often young and transient. Once they leave town or even across the city to a different job, it may be extremely hard to find them. That's why we go out and subpoena the bar's employment records and find these people. We then subpoena them to testify to see if they remember any details such as a patrons' demeanor, who sold them alcohol, and when.
In most dram shop cases the best witnesses turn out to be the bar's own staff. Not only were they usually the last person to see the drunk driver before the accident, they also offer invaluable insight into the culture of the restaurant. Generally, when a restaurant is in the business of over-serving obviously intoxicated people the staff is encouraged to do so by management and their are policies in place that encourage unlawful behavior. Once your attorney discovers a culture of unlawful service within an establishment, not only does it bolster your dram shop case in the event of a trial, but it greatly increases the likelihood that a bar will realize that they can't win at trial and offer a fair settlement.
Get a skilled dram shop attorney on board now.
The most crucial part of preserving your right to sue, is the preservation of evidence. Evidence is the means tool by which the right to sue transforms from a theoretical legal right, to a concrete legal tool in the real world.
In over a quarter-century of helping Texans who have been injured by alcohol establishments who unlawfully serve those who are already intoxicated, the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices know what it takes to preserve our clients' right to sue. Our attorneys have won more Texas dram shop cases than almost any other firm in Texas and helped hundreds of injured Texans get the compensation they deserve.
If you were involved in an accident with a drunk driver and suspect that a bar or restaurant may have been the reason for their intoxication, give us a call at (855) 326-0000. We're here to get the ball rolling.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- Doesn't the TABC Punish Bars Who Break the Rules?
- Holding People Accountable for Negligently Entrusting Vehicles to Drunk Drivers
- What to Expect if Your Liquor Liability Personal Injury Case Goes to Trial