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When Can Bars Be Liable for Patrons Walking Into Traffic While Drunk?

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

How a Texas dram shop attorney can help after someone walks into traffic while drunk

Under Texas law, it is illegal to sell alcohol to a person who is already drunk. This law does not have an exception for when a patron isn't driving. For this reason, when a bar or restaurant serves an obviously intoxicated person who later walks out into traffic, the bar can be held liable for the pedestrian's injuries or death under the Texas Dram Shop Act. The injured pedestrian or family of the deceased can recover damages by filing suit against the bar who unlawfully served them.

In Grossman Law Office's 25-plus years of practice, we have litigated more than our share of dram shop cases where people wandered into traffic due to their intoxication. When that happens, it's possible that the bar or restaurant that over-served them could be held accountable for the accident.

In this article we'll look at what happens when someone walks into traffic while drunk and who can be held responsible.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • Can a bar be sued if an intoxicated person is hit by a car?
  • What happens if a drunk person walks into traffic after leaving a bar?
  • How can an experienced attorney help an injured pedestrian with their dram shop lawsuit?

Effects of alcohol on the human body

Everyone knows that one of the first effects of consuming alcohol is impaired judgment. For most people, within 2 to 3 drinks. their judgment is measurably impaired. Unfortunately, we all know that people in this position are generally unaware of how much their decision-making abilities have been impaired by over-consumption of alcohol. Far too often, this impairment is so severe that it can cause an intoxicated pedestrian to walk out into traffic or step in front of a moving vehicle.

Many times the person who walks out into traffic was drinking at a bar or restaurant prior to the accident. Given the increased awareness in recent decades of the dangers of drunk driving, many people choose to walk to bars, instead of taking the risk of getting behind the wheel, especially if they plan to drink a lot that evening.

Unfortunately, some bars and restaurants seem to think that just because a person tells them they're not driving, bartenders and wait staff can serve that person as much alcohol as they please. Texas law begs to differ.

Alcohol's Impact On The Brain

We all know that intoxicated people are prone to do things they wouldn't normally do when they're sober. They often slur their speech and lose control over walking. But why would someone who's intoxicated actually walk into traffic? How can that be alcohol's "fault"?

The answer lies in brain science. Briefly, alcohol significantly impacts neurotransmitters in the brain that are designed to stimulate or inhibit certain activities. For example, alcohol reduces the stimulative agent glutamate (similar to sugar) in your brain, which results in a slowdown of brain function. This results in slower reaction times and visual recognition.

Alcohol also increases production of a brain chemical called GABA, which, much like Valium or other tranquilizers, provides a calming effect. While all of this is going on, alcohol stimulates dopamine---the "happy chemical" from which we get the slang term "dope"---which provides, at times, an overwhelming feeling of euphoria and well-being.

With the combined effect of all three of these chemicals, you've essentially got someone who's thinking more slowly than they normally would; whose vision and reaction time are impaired; and who thinks all's right in the world. It's easy to see how someone in that condition might walk in front of something they normally wouldn't, like a moving vehicle on a busy road or highway.

What Texas dram shop law has to say

The state of Texas isn't ignorant of alcohol's potential dangers. People die every day from alcohol-related incidents, and in an attempt to put a stop to it, the Legislature created what's known as the Texas Dram Shop Act. At its core, the Act warns bars and restaurants that if a licensed alcohol provider breaks the law by serving an obviously intoxicated person, that provider is potentially liable to the person and their family for any injuries or deaths that happen as a result.

When the drinker themselves dies or is injured because of their own consumption of alcohol, they and/or their family has what's called a first-party dram shop case. One idea behind dram shop laws is that the more someone drinks, the worse their judgment becomes. Another is that it is unlawful for bars to serve people who are already drunk.

Before the Texas Dram Shop Act was passed, when bars broke the law and people were injured, bars could essentially say, "So what if we broke the law? There's nothing you can do about it." Bars could make money by over-serving and injuring people and suffer almost no consequences for their illegal behavior.

When people drink, the desire to keep the dopamine flowing doesn't decrease, so many people just want more alcohol. At a certain point, it's like the intoxicated person becomes an entirely different human being, utterly devoid of their usual discretion and decision-making skills. All the while, there sit the bartenders and waiters, trained to serve alcohol safely, but ignoring that training, happily plying the intoxicated patron with yet more liquor.

Being able to file a lawsuit against a bar isn't about denying the drinker's responsibility, but holding bars properly accountable for breaking the law. It is not like the law changed and became more stringent, just so people had an excuse to sue bars. In modern Texas history, it has always been illegal to sell alcohol to a drunk person.

Furthermore, bars and restaurants agree to abide by these laws when they apply for a liquor license. Dram shop lawsuits are merely tools to punish bars who fail to live up to the standard of responsible alcohol service as a condition of selling alcohol in the state of Texas.

So, what would at attorney have to prove to show that your loved one was improperly over-served alcohol? Two of the most complex elements of a dram shop case to prove include:

  • Obvious intoxication: At the time they were served, the victim must have been more than a little tipsy. Instead, they must have either 1) been already clearly intoxicated or 2) provided with so much alcohol that they'd necessarily be drunk by the time they finished it.
  • Proximate cause: Your lawyer must draw a direct line between the over-service of alcohol and the wandering into traffic. This is done usually through a combination of the science of alcohol, close proximity in time between the last service of alcohol and the accident, and expert witness testimony to connect the two.

Give experienced Texas dram shop attorney Michael Grossman a call.

We're not here to judge victims of greedy and negligent bars, but a jury will likely place some fault on the person who drank too much and wandered into traffic. Our job is to get the evidence required to prove that the bar was so wantonly reckless in their service of alcohol that it should be the party found most responsible for the tragedy.

After all, tipsy people don't just walk out into traffic. People usually have to be over-served to such an extreme degree to wander into a roadway that it is hard for a bar to plausibly argue that they didn't serve an obviously intoxicated person.

It's unlikely there's any other firm in the entire state of Texas who's handled more first-party cases than us. If you've been hurt or lost someone, it's time to call us now at (855) 326-0000.

Other articles about Texas dram shop cases that may be helpful:

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