Interested in Filing A Dram Shop Claim Against Walgreens? Here's What You Should Know
Even among those familiar with Dram Shop liability, most people probably wouldn't think of their neighborhood pharmacy as a potential defendant for a liquor liability claim. But one of the things you learn when your firm has filed more Dram Shop claims than anyone else in Texas is that any place that sells alcohol can potentially do so negligently and hurt others as a result. To help raise awareness about the actual extent of over-service among bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and other providers, I occasionally look through the complaint records of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and report my findings. If you believe you have a potential Dram Shop case, I encourage you to contact me at (855) 326-0000.
Walgreens is a well-known drugstore chain with numerous locations all around the country. Started in 1901, it's actually the second-largest chain of its kind in the United States with over 8,000 stores. It shows no signs of slowing down and is a ubiquitous name among consumers. Its profits reflect this hard-earned place in the American consciousness; Walgreens' June 2018 earnings report reflected third-quarter earnings of $1.34 billion.
Some of that profit comes from alcohol sales, and like any company that deals in such high volume and with such a wide customer base, occasionally Walgreens stores around the country run into trouble with selling alcohol to the wrong people. While they don't tend to have quite as many rules to watch out for--the store isn't actually pouring drinks for anyone, just selling them in closed containers--they're still obligated not to sell alcohol to minors or people who are obviously intoxicated.
When Texas Walgreens stores disobey those rules, accidentally or intentionally, they answer to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). Over the years locations across the Lone Star State occasionally run afoul of this agency and their practices are investigated; since 2015 there have been six such instances noted in the TABC's complaint record.
Note: Investigations are not guarantees of guilt. Just because a complaint was filed does not mean that Walgreens actually violated alcohol-service laws. However, even if sufficient evidence of a violation is not found, that doesn't necessarily mean the bar is innocent--only that the allegation couldn't be proven. In order to make any claims stick, investigators have to find irrefutable evidence that there was a violation of Texas dram shop law. Due to the nature of the offenses, that proof can be difficult to find. All we're doing here is relaying publicly-available information about incidents where the TABC has investigated Walgreens for possible criminal or administrative violations.
TABC Investigations of Walgreens Since 2015
Bay City - 3018 7th Street (Store #09440)
11/15/2017: A law enforcement agency informed the TABC that this Walgreens location allegedly sold alcohol to a person under the age of 21.
The TABC dutifully investigated the information passed along by police. According to the complaint log, officers found evidence that Walgreens did sell alcohol to a minor. The agency documented the violation, but rather than take administrative action against the business it appears they "restrained" their disposition.
When the TABC has a "Restrained Administrative Case," it means that the location they're investigating was likely able to plead an effective Safe Harbor defense. Safe Harbor generally means that the employer argued they made every effort to appropriately train their staff, including requiring them to go through TABC certification. You can read more about Safe Harbor on our explanation page.
Because of Walgreens' successful Safe Harbor plea, the TABC did not fine them or suspend their license. Any criminal charges against the employee who sold the alcohol were likely handled by local law enforcement. The complaint was closed on 11/28/2017.
Coppell - 313 N Denton Tapp Road (Store #04418)
2/10/2017: A law enforcement agency reached to the TABC to allege that this Walgreens location sold or served alcohol to one or more people under the legal drinking age.
TABC officers looked into the information provided by Coppell police, but were apparently unable to find sufficient evidence that such a violation occurred. The file was closed on 3/10/2017 with no further action taken to penalize Walgreens.
Dallas - 9807 Walnut Hill Lane (Store #11514)
4/04/2017: A concerned citizen contacted the TABC to complain that Walgreens allegedly sold and/or dispensed alcohol to a minor.
People's opinions may vary on exactly how grave a sin it is to serve a minor alcohol. For instance, many minors in their late teens gripe about how they should be able to drink if they can vote. However they may feel about it, though, as citizens of their state and country they are bound by the laws that govern it. The law entirely prohibits serving alcohol to patrons under 21*. Dram shop exists in part to correct the behavior of establishments that overlook that prohibition.
TABC investigators don't appear to have found sufficient evidence that Walgreens sold alcohol to a minor as the complaint stated. Unable to prove that such a violation occurred, the agency closed the file without any further action on 5/02/2017.
*In Texas a minor can drink alcohol with the consent and supervision of a parent or guardian, be it at home or at a bar. That exemption would not apply to this complaint as the minor still couldn't buy the alcohol him- or herself.
Dallas - 3802 Cedar Springs Road (Store #07839)
9/30/2015: Shortly after Labor Day, law enforcement reached out to the TABC to report that Walgreens allegedly sold or delivered alcohol to a minor.
Given that Walgreens can't by the nature of its business get in too much trouble for pouring drinks, it seems as though the real risk it runs is allowing minors to buy beer or wine. It's unlikely these instances are deliberate circumventions of the law, but rather a possible failure to properly check the ID's of their customers. That's only speculation, though, and not intended to provide concrete details about this specific incident.
TABC officers checked into the law enforcement agency's claims. An investigation that lasted roughly a month and a half seems to have confirmed that Walgreens sold alcohol to a minor--interestingly, the date on which the violation occurred was 5/16/2015, several months before the complaint was officially opened. Whatever may have led to this discovery, the TABC took punitive action against Walgreens in the form of a "Civil Penalty," which most likely means a fine. the complaint was closed on 11/11/2015.
Dallas - 3418 McKinney Avenue (Store #05092)
9/24/2015: According to a report made to the TABC by a local law enforcement agency (probably the Dallas PD), this Walgreens location allegedly sold or served alcohol to one or more minors.
The open TABC investigation seems only to have lasted five days, in which time officers apparently confirmed that Walgreens had committed at least one violation by selling alcohol to a minor on 5/16/2015. Interestingly, this sale took place on the same day as a Walgreens location in the same general area (Uptown/Oak Lawn) was penalized by the TABC for selling alcohol to a minor. It's uncertain what happened that day, but it's interesting that two locations were hit in the same day and both locations were dinged by the TABC for the same violation.
Having determined that this location committed the violation, the TABC apparently agreed to restrain any punitive action against this Walgreens, suggesting it may have successfully argued a Safe Harbor exemption. The complaint was closed without further action on 9/29/2015.
Granbury - 1050 Hwy 377 East (Store #05921)
3/22/2017: The TABC heard from a law enforcement agency that this Walgreens location sold or served alcohol to one or more people under the age of 21.
TABC officers looked into this allegation, but do not appear to have found sufficient evidence that a violation occurred. The complaint was closed on 4/25/2017 with no further action taken to penalize Walgreens.
Texas Law Allows Victims of Over-service to Sue Careless Providers
If you would like to learn more about Texas Dram Shop/liquor liability law, we encourage you to look over our extensive overview of the topic.