Just How Drunk is a .26 BAC?

Michael GrossmanAugust 26, 2016 3 minutes

A few days ago, our firm was hired on a case wherein a young woman went to a Buffalo Wild Wings, was served an obscene quantity of alcohol, and then died in an accident after the bar sent her on her way.

Unrelated, a few members of our staff were having a conversation about the Stanford rape case that has been in the media lately; the one where a girl who was black-out drunk was raped by upright-walking human garbage, Brock Allen Turner. Upon learning that he raped her while she was passed out due to intoxication, one of an employee of mine asked, "Just how drunk was his victim?" The response was, "She was incredibly drunk. A .24."

One employee, Cory Carlson, then said, "You want to know something crazy? Our client's daughter in that Buffalo Wild Wings case was even drunker than that."

That's right, a popular bar here in Texas served one its customers and let her get behind the wheel of a car with more alcohol in her system than Brock Turner's rape victim had at the time of her assault.

A Quick Thought on Understanding Blood Alcohol Content

At Grossman Law Offices, we have handled more liquor liability, or dram shop cases, than almost any other firm in Texas. For those unfamiliar with the Texas Dram Shop Act, it's a law passed by the Texas Legislature that holds bars accountable for the injuries that result from the unlawful service of alcohol. Unlawful service is defined by serving an obviously intoxicated person who is a danger to themselves or others.

Many people believe that these cases are little more than people going out to bars, having a couple too many, getting in an accident, and trying to blame a poor decision on someone else. One of the more complex tasks for our attorneys is to relate a victim's intoxication in a way that most people can readily understand.

Further, most people are familiar with blood alcohol content (BAC), which quantifies the amount of alcohol in a person's blood at a given moment in time. The problem is that those numbers make about as much sense to must people as temperatures in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, or speed limits that are in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour. Sure quick internet searches can translate those units into more familiar units, but they cannot establish the connection that we intuitively have with units of measure that we use everyday.

Most people know that .08 is legally intoxicated for driving purposes. However, reaching that number varies so much with body weight, gender, number of drinks, and the time it takes to reach that limit that the number is far more personal and internalized than something that we can objectively see in others.

In the Buffalo Wild Wings case I mentioned earlier, the young woman had a BAC of .26. The problem in this case isn't a legal one, we're certain the law is on our client's side. The issue isn't convincing a jury. If the case gets that far, our attorneys have more than enough experience convincing juries. The problem as we see it is finding a suitable way to convey just how drunk a .26 is to those in the general public.

We could list the medical symptoms such extremely slurred speech, extremely impaired judgement and decision making, blackouts, vomiting, and loss of consciousness, but they don't really convey the severity of just how drunk this person was. It's not like temperature, where we know 100° is blazing hot and 20° is frigid.

Perhaps an analogy is the best way to truly convey how impaired our client's loved one was at the time of the accident. Everyone recalls the recent abomination of justice that was the Brock Allen Turner, Stanford rape case. People were rightly outraged that a convicted rapist only received 6 months in jail and 3 years of probation for his attack on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. News reports in that case indicated that the victim's BAC was three times the legal limit, or .24.

At .24 the woman who was attacked had no recollection of the attack and wrote a harrowing depiction of learning about the attack after she regained consciousness hours later. Our client's BAC was a .26. Buffalo Wild Wings saw fit to serve her until she was more intoxicated than a woman would couldn't defend herself, or even recall a brutal attack. This is a bar that when they received their liquor license agreed to abide by rules that our community has established. These rules prohibit serving people who are already intoxicated, let along people who are black-out drunk.

For some extra sales and a gratuity, they served this person until they were literally black-out drunk, then unleashed them on to the same roads that the rest of use.

I wish there were some way to wrap this thought up into a neat little bow, to provide a moral lesson or teaching moment. The problem is that any lesson, discussion, or discourse can only begin when we agree on the terms we are discussing. We lack the terms to adequately convey in a timely manner just how drunk someone with a .26 BAC is. We can only glean the precise magnitude of that number by comparing it to other horrific incidents.