How Punitive Damages Works In Dram Shop Lawsuits:
As we discussed on our main Dram Shop Compensation page, the law empowers victims of alcohol-related accidents to seek money from bars and restaurants that over-serve alcohol to patrons. As in just about every type of lawsuit, the main goal is getting compensation for the damages the plaintiff directly incurred because of the defendant’s actions.
However, there are some circumstances where the law allows victims to sue for even more than the standard compensation. Below, we’ll discuss how you may be able to hold grossly negligent alcohol providers to an even greater standard.
Questions answered on this page:
- What are punitive damages?
- Why are punitive damages awarded for dram shop lawsuits?
- What is gross negligence?
- What actions make a bar grossly negligent?
- How can an attorney help me get punitive damages from my case?
Defining Punitive Damages
Since Texas joined the United States, courts have allowed injured victims the opportunity to recover “exemplary,” or “punitive damages,” in cases where they can prove the one who caused the injury was grossly negligent. Throughout the years, Texas courts have given several reasons for assessing punitive damages against a defendant, a few of the most notable reasons include:
- To punish a defendant for their wrongful behavior, and as a result, ensure they don’t behave similarly in the future. A dangerous reality for many drivers on Texas roads is that several large corporate defendants can draft their business practices where they save more money by paying out huge settlements or judgments in a few personal injury or wrongful death cases instead of following their obligations of safety to the public. Due to the extremely large amount of compensation available through punitive damages, corporate defendants are effectively prevented from inappropriately budgeting unsafe financial practices.
- To send a message to other potential defendants in the industry. It’s important to note that punitive damages achieved against one defendant will most likely echo throughout the industry thus deterring others in the industry from doing the same thing. Thus, when a victim secures punitive damages against one defendant, this sends a message to other businesses who operate similarly to the punished defendant: Don’t do that. And as such, the end result is a safer society.
Proving The Need For Punitive Damages.
In order to secure punitive damages in a dram shop claim, the injured victim need to not only provide evidence to establish traditional dram shop liability, they’ll also have to prove, with “clear and convincing evidence” that the establishment was “grossly negligent” by over-serving someone they knew or should have known was intoxicated.
Currently, Texas courts haven’t fully settled the issue of when and how bars can be liable for punitive damages. That doesn’t mean they can’t eventually settle on a set of standards, but there would have to be more requirements other than the standard “bar sells a guy too much alcohol” case. Some of the scenarios we could foresee a court allowing punitive damages against a bar would likely be:
- A bar that routinely sells alcohol to minors or underage drinkers. Consistently flouting the hard-and-fast laws against selling alcohol to minors could inflame a jury that the bar wasn’t just somewhat negligent but more pernicious.
- A restaurant or bar that has a history of causing accidents. If a bar has a past of knowingly selling people alcohol until they’re “fall-down drunk” who then cause auto accidents, that could potentially be considered gross negligence.
- Purposefully placing drunk patrons behind the wheel. We’ve seen cases where bar employees, annoyed by the person they made intoxicated, literally put the patron in their car, turn the car on, and send the drunk on his way.
To get the information necessary to prove this up in court, you’ll need an attorney who is skilled in dram shop investigations. Grossman Law Offices has conducted more of these cases than any firm we’re aware of in Texas. We begin by searching public records for prior dram shop actions against the bar in question. We then depose eyewitnesses at the scene to get a clear view of what transpired. Then, we get testimony from toxicologists to show just how intoxicated the patron was, as well as testimony from safe alcohol sales consultants to prove how negligent the bar was.
Once we’ve got the evidence, it comes down to your attorneys’ ability to explain to a jury why the bar or restaurant deserves to be punished.
Our dram shop attorneys are here to help.
For more information about securing punitive damages in a dram shop injury claim and for answers to all of your questions from one of the award-winning attorneys at Grossman Law Offices in Dallas, TX. We encourage you to give us a toll-free call any time, day or night, at (855) 326-0000 for free consultation.
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