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Who Can Be Held Liable Under the Texas Dram Shop Act?

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

The Texas Dram Shop Act applies to almost all alcohol providers, not just bars.

Drunk driving is a serious problem in Texas. One of the many ways that the Texas Legislature has addressed this issue is by allowing the victims of drunk drivers to seek compensation from the alcohol "provider" that served the drunk driver, provided that the victim can establish that the alcohol provider acted negligently.

But what exactly is a "provider" under the Texas Dram Shop Act? Can victims of drunk driving and other alcohol-related incidents only sue bars, or does it apply to other establishments as well?

In this article, experienced dram shop attorney Michael Grossman will explain who can be sued under the Texas Dram Shop Act for irresponsible alcohol service, which results in injuries. Also, be sure to check out our Comprehensive Guide to Dram Shop Law so you and your family have a full understanding of this area of the law.

Questions answered on this page:

  • What is the the definition of an alcohol "provider?"
  • When is an alcohol provider can be liable?
  • How can an alcohol provider avoid liability?
  • Who does the Texas Dram Shop Act apply to?
  • What we can an experienced dram shop attorney do to help your case?

What is an "alcohol provider"?

Providers come in two forms under Texas law:

  • unlicensed providers
  • licensed providers

Licensed Providers

A licensed provider of alcohol is any business or person that sells or serves alcohol to patrons in exchange for money. This can include:

  • Bars
  • Restaurants
  • Night clubs
  • Liquor stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Strip clubs
  • Caterers
  • Southwest Airlines flights
  • Party buses
  • Rodeos
  • Sports stadiums

Unlicensed providers

Unlicensed providers are virtually anyone who charges for alcohol. In essence, these providers do not have a liquor license, yet they assume the role of an alcohol seller as if they do. Since alcohol is such a heavily regulated substance, our state's lawmakers have decided that if you sell alcohol without a license, you're held to the same legal standard as a licensed provider. As such, if an alcohol-related accident injures or kills someone, an unlicensed provider can be sued for improper service just the same as a licensed provider.

Common examples of unlicensed providers are:

  • Frat or house parties that charge a cover
  • Restaurants that serve alcohol "under the table"
  • Mom-and-pop vendors who sell alcohol out of their home
  • Unlicensed caterers who charge for drinks at a social function

What makes an alcohol provider liable for injuries or death caused by intoxication?

Selling alcohol as a licensed provider is not a crime. The Texas Dram Shop Act is not meant to target businesses for selling alcohol, only to hold them responsible if they act in a negligent and dangerous manner. In order to incur liability, the alcohol provider must have sold, served, or provided alcohol to an obviously intoxicated adult recipient. This intoxicated person must then injure themselves or someone else, due to their intoxication, in order for an alcohol vendor to have any liability. They share the responsibility for the drunk driver's actions because they profited by enabling someone to become a danger to themselves and others, and then allowing them leave.

It's worth pointing out that every licensed established, as part of receiving their license to sell alcohol, agrees to serve alcohol in a manner consistent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. The Texas Dram Shop Act merely gives victims a legal tool to hold irresponsible alcohol providers accountable when they fail to live up to obligations that they freely entered into. It would be rather perverse, if like some states, Texas permitted alcohol providers to profit off of over-service without assuming some risk for endangering the community.

It is a violation of the law for servers to serve a customer to the point of being drunk, but it's not a violation of the law that you can sue an alcohol provider for. To be clear, bars are not held responsible under Texas law for "getting someone drunk." The way our lawmakers and courts see it, the person who chose to drink got themselves drunk. The singular act that causes bars to be liable is serving someone once the bar knows or should know that the customer is drunk.

In other words, bars aren't liable because someone chose to drink too much. Bars are liable for not cutting the person off once it became apparent that they were drunk. Once someone is obviously intoxicated, by serving the customer even a single drop of additional alcohol the bar becomes liable.

How can bars and restaurants avoid liability?

First and foremost, an alcohol provider can avoid liability by serving alcohol in safe, responsible manner. We have litigated hundreds of dram shop claims and we've never had a case come up where the alcohol provider, outside of a one fluke accident, is an otherwise upstanding business. Over-serving and letting drunk patrons drive away is common in these establishments.

The Texas Dram Shop act does allow a specific exception where the provider is not considered an alcohol provider, but rather is known as a "social host." This is when alcohol is given away or served, but not sold. The hosts of a house party that freely gives away beers and serves mixed drinks to their friends cannot be held liable under the Dram Shop Act for any injuries or accidents that their guests get into. Although exempt from civil litigation, it is still a good idea for the social host to look out for the well-being of their guests.

In addition, the Texas Dram Shop Act allows "safe harbor" provisions to establishments. As long as everyone in an alcohol-serving establishment is certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), and the establishment does not engage in any behavior to encourage unsafe alcohol service, the business can assert their "safe harbor" defense and avoid liability.

What we can do to help?

Dram shop cases are not simple. Many law firms do not even accept these cases because of how hard they can be to prove. Where others shy away, we rise to the challenge. Our attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have considerable experience winning these types of lawsuits. You'll be hard pressed to find another law firm with the our experience in pursuing dram shop claims. We know what it takes to hold providers accountable and have even forced some establishments to close down for continuously over-serving intoxicated patrons.

We can help you obtain the compensation that you deserve for your case. Call one of our attorneys today for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000.

If you have been injured due to negligent alcohol service you may be interested in the following related articles:

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