If you ask the average person on the street, they probably don't even know what a Dram Shop claim is. Of those who are familiar with them, it's likely that many believe they're just one more way for attorneys to enrich themselves by going after the deepest pockets they can find, while letting drunk drivers off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth, as one case our firm recently took on illustrates.
This case involved a motorcyclist who was massively over-served by Big Mouth Burgers, a casual dining restaurant in Alice, TX, near Corpus Christi. After leaving the restaurant, he crashed his bike and sustained fatal injuries. Based on the evidence we uncovered, it looks like this incident may have been the tragic culmination of a long history of negligent alcohol service.
How and Why Dram Shop Law Holds Negligent Bars Accountable
To clear up any potential confusion, we'll start with a brief discussion of the law under which Big House Burgers could be held liable, the Texas Dram Shop Act. It allows bars who over-serve patrons to be held accountable through civil litigation when those intoxicated customers injure or kill themselves or others.
Many people, upon first hearing about this law, will respond, "But it's the job of bars to serve alcohol! How can they be responsible just because someone chose to drink too much?" This is true as far as it goes. But there's a reason that vendors have to obtain a license from the state to sell alcohol: If it isn't done responsibly, there can be life-changing (or life-ending) consequences.
Suppose that you're hanging out with your friend when you hear him talking about how he wishes he had a gun because he's got someone who needs to be taught a lesson. If you tell him, "Hey, I've got one you can borrow. But you're just going to scare him, right?" and then lend it to him, you'd be civilly and criminally liable if he went on to use your gun for his vendetta.
Similarly, when a bar violates their obligation to serve alcohol responsibly, it's only fair for them to take on some share of the liability if someone they over-serve is harmed due to intoxication. This doesn't let the drunk person off the hook for any harm they cause; the law discounts the compensation that vendor pays by the drunk's share of the responsibility. And local prosecutors don't let a drunk driver walk, just because a bar faces dram shop liability. Dram shop law properly recognizes that another entity directly contributes to serious alcohol-related incidents. And it's just not fair that they should be able to pay a small civil penalty to the TABC and go on their careless way, causing more people and families to suffer.
Big House Burgers' History of Over-service and Its Consequences
In our long history of suing negligent alcohol providers, our firm has observed that the tragic situation at hand usually isn't the first time the defendant's staff has been careless with alcohol service. There's usually a history of past TABC complaints, other people harmed or killed in similar circumstances to our clients', or both. While we don't know if this Big Mouth Burgers has contributed to previous injuries or deaths, they definitely have a significant TABC rap sheet.
Specifically, the agency's database indicates that individuals filed two complaints against the restaurant for selling alcohol to an intoxicated person, once in 2014 and again in 2017, at least a year before the October 2018 crash we discussed here. This suggests a pattern of behavior that regularly ends in tragedy sooner or later, and unfortunately it appears that our client ended up paying the price.
We can see further evidence of the establishment's prioritizing profit over safe service in a social media advertisement for Big House Burgers that our attorneys tracked down. It announces a promotion called "Thirsty Thursdays," during which patrons can obtain $3 margaritas during a five hour period from 5 pm to closing. While these kind of discounted drink offers may be commonplace for bars and restaurants, they likely also indicate a desire to maximize profits by facilitating patrons' rapid intoxication.
When criticizing the supposed burden of dram shop laws, bar owners will often say it's simply not reasonable to expect staff to monitor the alcohol consumption of dozens of patrons carefully enough to avoid over-service. But postmortem toxicology results showed our client's BAC reading in this case to be more than .20, almost three times the legal limit for intoxication. This is effectively what the average person would call "falling down drunk." The idea that the staff of this restaurant could somehow not have noticed someone reaching that level of inebriation simply strains credulity.
Based on the evidence we've already obtained and our firm's decades-long record of success with similar cases, we're confident we'll be able to obtain justice for our client's family and hold Big House Burgers accountable for the consequences of their actions. With any luck, the significant costs they incur will make them think twice about committing this kind of careless behavior in the future.