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Who is liable when a drunk driver hurts themselves? Our dram shop attorneys explain:

Drunk driving is a serious problem. We all know that drunk drivers can injure and kill others, but what about the intoxicated motorists themselves? Does the law allow them to potentially file a claim against anyone?

The answer is that the intoxicated drivers---or their family members whom they leave behind after fatal accidents---do have claims against the bars and restaurants that provided too much alcohol. Below, experienced Dallas dram shop attorney Michael Grossman discusses why and how.


Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What happens when a drunk driver injures them self?
  • Can a drunk person sue a bar if they get hurt?
  • Who is responsible if an intoxicated person dies in an accident?

Why the law allows drunk drivers and their families to sue alcohol establishments.

Bars and restaurants are obviously in the business of making money--and alcohol plays a large role in that. For most restaurants and bars, food pays the bills, but alcohol is where they make their money. Like any business, they want to move as much product to their customers as possible, and as fast as possible. The problem with alcohol is that its central purpose to is alter the mind.

In small quantities, it only imbues a calming, brightening effect. But taken to an extreme, it wastes away the brain's natural abilities to make sound judgments, understand its surroundings, and react.

Everyone knows this, and so do the establishments that sell alcohol. They know that when patrons become truly intoxicated, they become seriously dangerous to not just other drivers, but to themselves.

Every bar and restaurant employee will eventually faced with the temptation to choose between doing the right thing (cut patrons off who are obviously intoxicated) with the easy thing (keep serving them alcohol), and the well-being of all of us depends upon which they pick. The Texas Legislature understood this in the late-1980's when it passed the Dram Shop Act. The law allows victims and their families to sue establishments that help cause drunk driving accidents for things like pain and suffering, loss of income, and resulting medical bills.

The question is often asked, though, "Isn't the drunk driver responsible?" The answer is simple: "Yes, but not solely." The bar had a hand in the accident by plying the drinker well passed the point of being tipsy and into complete intoxication. For that, the bar must be held to account.

How the law works.

These cases are called first-party dram shop lawsuits. In essence, your dram shop attorney must be able to prove that the bar served you or your loved one alcohol to the point of obvious intoxication and beyond. This requires a detailed inquiry into how much alcohol was served, when, and whether there was a close enough proximity to the excess drinking and the accident such that we can say the drunkenness actually contributed or caused the accident.

Defendant bars in these cases (and their insurance companies) hire expensive attorneys to fight your case. They'll try to paint you or your loved one who passed away as the only reason why the accident happened rather than the negligent bar. That's why you need experienced attorneys fighting on your side to prevent this from happening.

It is important to remember that in every dram shop case, the bar is accused of breaking the law. It is illegal in Texas for any alcohol establishment to sell alcohol to a person who was already drunk. Since this can be a tricky standard, the Texas Legislature raised the bar in dram shop cases, allowing bar to be sued only when they serve an obviously intoxicated person. To be perfectly clear, a person doesn't have to be obviously intoxicated for it to be illegal to sell them alcohol, they only have to be intoxicated. However, in a dram shop case, the bar is significantly higher. In theory, the Texas Dram Shop Act was designed not to punish bars for breaking the law a little bit, but for when the law-breaking is egregious and blatant.

This does not excuse the behavior of anyone who drinks too much and gets behind the wheel. They still face their own civil and criminal sanctions for their behavior. What allowing injured drunk drivers to sue a bar that served them when they were already obviously intoxicated does is hold the bar accountable for their share of lawbreaking. What bars do when they serve obviously intoxicated patrons is to create a hazard for the rest of the community, off which the bar profits. There is no other area of the law that permits people or businesses to profit from criminal behavior, which is part of the reason bars can be sued by an injured drunk driver for over-serving that driver.

Fatal Accidents

Of course, the examples above assume that the drunk driver survives their accident. In fatal drunk driving accidents, the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased driver all have wrongful death claims based upon the alcohol establishment's dram shop liability. While some people have little sympathy for a drunk driver, even if they are unlawfully served while obviously intoxicated, it is difficult to imagine that people should transfer that anger to the drunk driver's family when the pursue a wrongful death claim.

Most people have a bit of easier time understanding why the law allows drunk driver's family members to file suit against a bar or restaurant that obviously over-served their loved one, which led to a drunk driving accident. After all, it seems terribly cruel to suggest to a family that a business in the community, who had agreed to abide by a certain set of rules to ensure the safety of their customers and the community, violated those rules to make extra money, or through indifference, and have to suffer no consequences for their law-breaking.

While it may bother some people, the fact is that Texas law allows the family members of deceased drunk drivers to pursue the bars and restaurants who unlawfully served their loved one in an effort to hold bars accountable. It is not shifting responsibility to hold bars accountable. We have all been told since we were children that two wrongs don't make a right. Just because a drunk driver did something wrong, doesn't excuse the fact that the bar did not live up to their responsibilities. That is the spirit of the Texas Dram Shop Act.

Our firm has handled countless first-party dram shop cases. We're here to help you.

We're aware of no other firm in Texas that has litigated nearly as many first-party dram shop cases as we have. We've been able to recover major compensation for many of our clients, and in the process, have learned the subtle nuances of proving these claim. If you've been seriously hurt or lost a family member in a drunk driving accident, we're here to help. Call us now at (855) 326-0000. We answer the phone 24/7.


Other articles about Texas dram shop cases that may be helpful: