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How Does Investigation and Filing Suit Work in a First-Party Dram Shop Case?

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

In a First-Party Dram Shop Case, It's Important to Investigate the Bar

The most fundamental aspect of Texas dram shop law is that it allows bars to be sued for injuries or deaths resulting from the negligent service of alcohol. In other words, when a bar serves alcohol to someone who they already know is dangerously drunk, they incur liability for any subsequent injuries or fatalities.

A first-party dram shop case is one where the customer who was served too much alcohol is also the victim in the accident. The way this normally plays out is a customer goes to a bar intending to drink a little, they are served to the point that the part of their brain that processes risk and decision making is rendered ineffective by intoxication, and then, rather than cut them off, the bar knows they're drunk but continues to serve them anyway. This ultimately culminates in the customer getting involved in some type of intoxication-induced accident.

A key characteristic of these cases is that juries take some convincing to agree that the bar who served the customer is more at fault for the customer's injuries than the customer is himself. One of the best ways to persuade a jury to hold the bar accountable is to show them evidence of the bar's disregard for the rules. Frankly, this evidence is usually easy to come by, since most bars who over-serve a customer to the extent that they injure or kill themselves have done it to other customers. In other words, bars only find themselves staring down the barrel of a lawsuit when they make it a habit to violate Texas law with respect to safe alcohol sales, so there's usually plenty of "dirt" for us to find on the bar.

But therein lies the rub. If you have a first-party dram shop case, but you don't hire a lawyer soon after the accident to investigate the bar, all of that compelling evidence is not going to do you much good. In this article, Texas attorney Michael Grossman explains why it's imperative that you investigate the bar, its background, and the background of its servers before you file suit.

For an overview of the other steps taken in dram shop cases, click on the links below:

When a bar patron becomes intoxicated and hurts himself, juries are reluctant to conclude that the bar is more at fault for the customer's injuries than the customer himself is. Under the right circumstances, however, a jury can be shown that this is not an isolated incident, and the bar actually has a history of serving people to such an extent that they hurt themselves. When juries view the bar's history of misconduct, it often paves the way for them holding the bar properly accountable.

While we could write a book on the complex and contradictory nature of jury psychology, suffice it to say, when a single drunk customer is hurt, juries aren't terribly sympathetic. But when they can be shown that bar has a sordid history of law-breaking, or that the bar has hurt numerous customers by over-serving them, something clicks in the mind of the juror that makes them think, "If we don't punish this bar, it's just a matter of time until one of these intoxicated customers hurts me or my family." This is precisely why it is important to investigate bars. Our experience has shown us that bars who serve people to the point that they injure or kill themselves are pretty likely to have a checkered past and numerous brushes with the law. But if we can't show that to the jury, it becomes very hard to win the case.

What we look for when we investigate a bar:

We try to find any examples of the bar breaking the law that we can, including:

  • 911 calls made about the bar
  • Past instances where their liquor license was revoked
  • TABC violations
  • Criminal cases that have been filed against the license holder or servers
  • Videos and reviews left online which show how rowdy the bar can be

Often, some of our best allies in helping documenting a licensed alcohol vendor's past misconduct are its former employees. When we pursue a case against the bar, former staff members often come out of the woodwork to reveal the bar's secrets. It is often shocking just how lawless some bars and restaurants are.

Ultimately, a claim must be filed.

Once we have done our homework on the bar, then we are ready to tell them that we intend to sue them. We send them a spoliation of evidence notice and a letter of representation, both of which inform them of our intentions to hold them accountable and of their obligations to cooperate.

This process is known as filing a claim against them. The term "claim" is used to differentiate between attempts made to settle and handle things out of court, as opposed to a lawsuit where we obviously would be on the court's radar. If the bar is willing to be reasonable and negotiate in good faith, we may never have to file suit. But usually they have to be sued in order to get them to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Nevertheless, the first step after investigating the bar is usually to file a claim against the bar, often by filing it with their insurance carrier. If this administrative claim fails, then we will move on to the next phase of filing suit.

Our Texas Dram Shop Attorneys Are Here to Help

Our attorneys have considerable experience litigating Texas dram shop case, and we are available 24/7 to answer questions. Call our Texas dram shop lawyers at 1-855-326-0000 for a free consultation.

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