Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1232 in June 2019, ending the ban on alcohol retailers delivering beer and wine to their customers. This law allows existing beer and wine retailers to apply for permits, which grant permission to legally deliver beer to customers' homes, or contract with outside delivery services, like Amazon, to have beer arrive on a person's doorstep. The law goes into effect September 1st.
People took to social media to celebrate the new law, while the media focused its coverage on how the law impacts the alcohol industry, as well as its potential to reduce drunk driving fatalities. The thinking is that if people don't have to worry about getting home, they're more likely to purchase more alcohol. And since customers will already be at home, they're less likely to need to get in their vehicles, which should reduce drunk driving, with all of its often-tragic consequences.
Two crucial aspects not touched on by discussions in the news are the potential legal consequences of alcohol delivery and the reasons why it may not reduce deaths and injuries as much as many people anticipate.
Alcohol Delivery and Texas Dram Shop Law
It's important to start with the fact that the only change House Bill 1232 makes to Texas law is permitting alcohol to be delivered to homes. This matters, because it leaves in place the prohibition against serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons who present a danger to themselves or others. In short, it's still illegal to serve alcohol to drunks, whether you're delivering it to them or serving them at an establishment.
When an alcohol provider breaks this law (and it doesn't matter if it's a bar, restaurant, liquor store, stadium beer vendor, or alcohol delivery person) and an injury or death results, the person who served the obviously intoxicated person is on the hook for their actions. As it relates to home alcohol delivery, I took a moment to speak with Grossman Law Office's dram shop guru, attorney Keith Purdue. According to Keith, "Based on how the TABC defines an alcohol server, not only will the courier have a duty to ensure that they don't deliver to an already intoxicated person, but if they illegally serve a drunk, they and their employer are liable for the consequences of that action."
While the vast majority of people who use an alcohol delivery service will do so merely because it's convenient, it's not far-fetched to believe that alcohol delivery will also appeal to people who exhaust their alcohol supplies and want to keep the party going, but don't want to go to the store. How can this lead to a serious injury or death? Over the years our firm has litigated numerous liquor liability cases where the injury didn't involve a drunk driver. In the next section, we'll discuss just a few of them.
Liquor Liability Cases that Didn't Involve Drunk Driving
Just because a person drinks to excess in their home, doesn't mean that such drinking is safe. Here are just a few examples of our past cases that exemplify dangerous alcohol service, but didn't involve drunk drivers:
Fatal Alcohol Poisoning - Grossman Law Offices recently litigated a case against a bar that continued to serve a man until he literally consumed so much alcohol that his body shut down from alcohol poisoning. In this case, instead of cutting off the intoxicated patron, staff members went so far as to prop him up so that he could continue to drink. Admittedly this is a rare, extreme occurrence, but it certainly seems like the kind of scenario that could become increasingly common when a person who is already drunk can order more alcohol with a touch of their phone.
Fatal Alcohol-Related Fall - A while back, a family member of a deceased young man reached out to our firm to discuss the death of a close relative. The man was drinking at a bar near a university. Despite many warning signs that the young man was in no condition to drink more, staff didn't cut him off. Eventually, he left the bar barely able to stand.
As he walked home, his intoxication was so great that he did not realize that he was about to step over a steep embankment with a 10 foot drop-off. Tragically, he fell down the embankment and died. Our attorneys were able to prove that, absent the extreme state of intoxication, there was very little chance that the man would not have avoided the hazard. And this is just one of the many alcohol-related falls that our firm has litigated. What's more, sustaining a fatal fall doesn't necessarily require someone to leave their home. Household falls claim thousands of lives every year. Adding excessive alcohol can only exacerbate that problem.
Fatal Alcohol-Related Drowning - It comes as a surprise to many who found out about it, but Grossman Law Offices has also litigated a case involving an alcohol-related drowning. Our client's relative was out at a bar, was egregiously over-served, and ended up drowning later in the evening. Again, we were able to show that, absent the illegal alcohol service, the patron would have survived. The bar eventually accepted responsibility for their actions. It's not a stretch to foresee that the deadly combination of alcohol and pools around Texas will only become more lethal if alcohol providers can deliver drinks to folks poolside.
These are just some examples, drawn from the hundreds of dram shop (liquor liability cases) that our firm has litigated, but I think they illustrate my point: The fact that people won't be dying in drunk driving wrecks related to illegal alcohol service doesn't mean that alcohol-related deaths will necessarily decrease. In fact, such deaths may just shift from our highways to our homes.
Alcohol Delivery Will Lead to Deaths and Serious Injuries
Some are likely skeptical that injuries and deaths will actually result from improper alcohol service associated with beer and wine delivery. Even discounting the previously mentioned cases, where someone sustained an alcohol related injury or died, without a vehicle being involved, there's another good reason to believe that drunks will be over-served and kill or injure themselves or others after receiving alcohol through a delivery service.
Texas liquor liability law, at least as it relates to the responsibility of alcohol providers not to serve drunks, hasn't changed in decades. In spite of that fact, the widespread availability of safe alcohol service training, and the management of bars' full awareness of the potential consequences of unlawful alcohol service, bars contribute to serious injuries and deaths all the time. Are delivery drivers with less experience and training going to do a better job denying service to drunks than bartenders? The answer is likely no.
As is the case with bars, the most likely outcome is that there will be many honest, safe alcohol delivery services, and also others who think that their job is to serve as much alcohol as a drunk wants. When this over-service occurs (and it will), it will lead directly to people being killed or injured. In that event, according to liquor liability attorney Keith Purdue, delivery services will face the same consequences under Texas dram shop law as brick and mortar stores.