How Punitive Damages Work 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 licensed alcohol providers that over-serve their patrons. As in just about every type of lawsuit, the main goal is getting compensation for the damages the plaintiff incurred as a direct result 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. Over the years, Texas courts have given several reasons for assessing punitive damages against a defendant, a few of the most notable being:
- To punish a defendant for their negligent 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 large corporate defendants often conclude that paying out huge settlements or judgments in a few personal injury or wrongful death cases is more economical than fulfilling their obligations of safety to the public. Punitive damages help to move this calculus in a more socially responsible direction.
- To send a message to other potential defendants in the industry. It's important to note that punitive damages levied against one defendant will most likely echo throughout the industry, hopefully deterring other alcohol vendors from similar negligent behavior. With any luck, the end result is safer roads for all of us.
Proving The Need For Punitive Damages
In order to secure punitive damages in a dram shop claim, the injured victim needs to not only provide evidence to establish traditional dram shop liability, they'll also have to prove, by the legal standard of clear and convincing evidence that the establishment was grossly negligent in over-serving someone they knew or (reasonably should have known) was intoxicated. (This standard is higher than that of a typical civil case, the preponderance of the evidence standard.)
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 uniform standards, but there would have to be more requirements other than "a bar sold a guy too much alcohol and people got hurt as a result." Some of the scenarios under which we could foresee courts assessing punitive damages against a bar might include:
- The bar routinely sells alcohol to minors or underage drinkers. Consistently flouting the hard-and-fast laws against selling alcohol to minors could lead a jury to conclude that the bar's negligence reached the extreme level meriting punitive damages.
- 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, turned the car on, and sent the drunk on his way.
To get the information necessary to prove this level of negligence in court, you'll need an attorney who is skilled in dram shop investigations. Grossman Law Offices has conducted more such investigations 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, the success or failure of your claim 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 about these claims from one of the award-winning attorneys at Grossman Law Offices, we encourage you to give us a toll-free call any time, day or night, at (855) 326-0000.
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