Nip It In the Bottle: Better to Prevent DWI Crashes Than to Litigate Them After It’s Too Late.

Michael GrossmanAugust 14, 2018 2 minutes

We spend a lot of time writing about dram shop law, which provides an avenue to remedy for people injured due to an establishment's unlawful alcohol service. When someone is over-served at a bar or restaurant it often has dire consequences, especially if they choose to drive in their intoxicated state.

While dram shop law serves an important function, I think we'd all agree that whenever possible it's better to handle an incident of over-service before anyone is hurt or killed. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and all that. In that vein, we got a call last week in the early hours of the morning--either very late or very early, depending on your perspective.

What Happened?

A restaurant worker in Palestine, a small town of about 20,000 people to the southeast of Dallas, was concerned about some behavior he was witnessing in real time at his job. He told us that the owner of the restaurant and his wife were on location serving themselves alcohol and pouring heavily for friends and customers.

According to Google the restaurant ordinarily closes at 10 p.m., but the owner and his wife continued to drink in the establishment until past midnight. As owners they're not necessarily subject to the same rules as ordinary customers, of course, but it says something that they stayed so late and also kept pouring drinks for themselves and others until two hours past closing time.

The server was especially concerned because the pair were clearly intoxicated and preparing to drive home. He asked us what he should do about what he was seeing. We thanked him for reaching out and advised him to call the police so the pair could be stopped before they could hurt anyone in a vehicle. We then suggested that he call the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to report the owner's intoxication. After getting the tip the commission will likely open an "Intoxicated Licensee/Franchisee" investigation; depending on the results, the restaurant owner may face a warning or civil penalty above and beyond whatever charges they may face for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Stop It Before It Starts.

While we have a lot to say about careless bars that keep funneling alcohol into intoxicated people, we know that these bad actors aren't generally representative of the entire industry. We're always glad to be contacted by conscientious bar and restaurant employees like this fellow in Palestine that remind us of this fact.

Dram shop law is designed to help victims seek remedy when they're hurt by overintoxicated people. Arguments about whether those injuries could have been prevented becomes academic and unhelpful once the deed is done. At that point it's important for the law to provide a chance for victims and their families to pick up the pieces, and dram shop attorneys help with that the best they can.

However, if a drunk driving injury or wrongful death can be stopped before it has a chance to start, that's infinitely better. We've handled thousands of dram shop cases and no one has ever suggested they'd prefer a post hoc settlement over having their loved one safe and sound with them. It's good to know that there are decent people out there trying to stop these incidents from happening in the first place.