Client Stories: Woman’s Death Shows Another Side of Dram Shop Law

Michael GrossmanJanuary 17, 2019 3 minutes

There's a lot of confusion out there about how our civil justice system works, and this is especially true with regard to dram shop claims. Judging by comments and everyday conversation, many people seem to think that these claims are just a way for greedy attorneys to go after easy money and help drunk drivers avoid responsibility. To show just how inaccurate these assumptions are, we sometimes use this space to discuss the wide variety of dram shop cases our firm has taken on, some of which don't involve drunk drivers at all.

What dram shop cases all have in common is a licensed alcohol provider that breaks the rules they agreed to when they got their liquor license by carelessly over-serving someone who's already intoxicated. In the case we'll discuss today, the bar involved over-served a woman to such an outrageous degree that, while attempting to sleep it off in her car, she passed away from alcohol poisoning.

How A Bar's Overservice Led to A Woman's Death In A Parking Lot

While a valid dram shop claim requires a licensed alcohol vendor have over-served either the plaintiff or the person responsible for hurting them, that can happen under a variety of circumstances, not just those involving drunk driving. Many of the cases we litigate involve people who become dangerously intoxicated before lying down on train tracks, running across highways, or otherwise endangering themselves as a direct result of being over-served.

The case discussed here involves a woman who went out for drinks shortly before noon at The King's Head, a traditional English pub in Houston. While we're still trying to establish some of the specific details, the staff apparently served her copious amounts of alcohol within about a three-hour span. Around 2:30 pm, she left the bar, staggered out to her car, fell asleep, and ultimately passed away within the next few hours from alcohol poisoning.

It truly boggles the mind that a business could be as irresponsible as The King's Head was in this instance. Consider this: the legal limit for intoxication in Texas is a .08 BAC. At this level of inebriation, intoxication is readily apparent to even the average person watching closely that someone, as their speech will often be slurred and their balance unsteady. The toxicology results for our client suggested that her BAC when she died was a .24, roughly three times that limit. It's hard to say which possibility is worse: that the bar's staff somehow didn't notice someone getting that drunk, or that they did notice and kept pouring her more drinks anyway.

The King's House's History of Careless Alcohol Service

Unfortunately, when we sue a bar that over-served someone, it's usually not the first time they've done so. If you think about it, this makes sense: negligent service of alcohol usually isn't the result of rogue servers deciding on their own to do the wrong thing. Instead, it happens because the management decides that the revenue from alcohol sales is more important to them than public safety and obeying the law.

As ethically dubious as it may be, this isn't necessarily an irrational decision. Considering that there are only around 200 TABC inspectors to investigate the thousands of licensed alcohol vendors in Texas, and only a small fraction of their investigations end with any penalties at all, rolling the dice by violating the law can seem like a smart business decision.

Based on one complaint filed with the agency regarding The King's House, it seems like they've done just that on at least one occasion. A couple years ago, a concerned citizen alleged that the bar served one patron on a regular basis despite his coming in already intoxicated or drinking until he was barely able to stand. The patron then allegedly left in his vehicle, after which one can only hope that he made it home without endangering himself or others. The fact that the agency didn't wind up leveling any sanctions against the bar for this egregious activity just shows how important dram shop law is to effectively dissuading it.

Given the evidence we've obtained of the bar's past negligent service, as well as their behavior in this case, we expect that we will be able to present a strong case against The King's Head and obtain justice for our clients after their devastating loss. Hopefully, the significant costs they incur will inspire its management to ensure their service of alcohol remains within the limits of the law.