Overview of first-party dram shop cases under Texas law:
When you first hear about dram shop law, you may think that it's intended only to compensate victims and family members who are injured by drunk drivers who are over-served. However, the law also allows for drunk drivers (or families of the deceased) who were over-served by alcohol providers to obtain compensation from those providers if they're injured or killed in a crash caused by their intoxication.
In this article, we'll discuss the legal basis for these claims, their justification, their limitations, and some common scenarios.
The legal basis for first-party dram shop cases.
Looking at the requirements of the statute (Chapter 2.02 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code) itself in simplified terms, the Texas Dram Shop Act requires only the following for a dram shop claim to be valid:
- A provider, like a bar, liquor store, or restaurant;
- served alcohol to someone even though they were obviously intoxicated to the point that they became a danger to themselves or others; and
- alcohol was the proximate cause of the crash that caused the injuries or deaths for which compensation is being sought.
Nothing in the statute, you'll notice, mandates that another party other than the drunk driver and the provider be involved. Further, Texas appellate courts have consistently ruled that the law allows individuals who were overserved and/or their families to financially recover from negligent bars and restaurants. Therefore, the same rules apply for dram shop claims when an individual is themselves overserved alcohol and later is injured or killed as they would if others besides the drunk driver were harmed.
How are first-party cases fair?
The same justifications for third-person dram shop cases apply to first-person cases:
- Bars and restaurants have a financial interest in selling as much alcohol as possible. Society's interest is to have safe roads. By holding alcohol providers liable for their negligence, we more closely align their financial interests with society's.
- Bars and restaurants are often the last possible defense we have against drunk driving. When these establishments see their patrons already intoxicated, they know that there is a good chance that person could get behind the wheel later. We want them to reduce the dangers drunk driving can cause and cut the drinker off.
One problem that first-person dram shop cases face is that the person who consumed the alcohol was almost always somewhat responsible for their own drinking. This can certainly reduce a first-party plaintiff's recovery, and in some cases can outright bar it. Under Texas Supreme Court precedent, first-person plaintiffs or their deceased relatives must not be found to be more than 50% responsible for their own accident. This might seem like it would easily exempt most plaintiffs from being able to recover for their losses, but it doesn't. In our 25 years of representing victims in dram shop cases, we have been able to recover for numerous first-person victims and their families. The key is being able to prove that the bar or restaurant was thoroughly negligent in over-serving you or your family member. Having the top-notch investigative and legal skills of Grossman Law Offices' attorneys on your side will be vital in this process.
Under what scenarios could a first-party plaintiff recover?
- A woman goes to a bar where the bartender knows she's underage. He serves her anyway, even though he knows it's against the law and TABC regulations. She is served 5 drinks containing triple shots of 150-proof liquor. The alcohol takes effect and the woman begins slurring her words, falling off the bar stool, and becoming belligerent. Before she leaves, the bartender (who has been drinking himself, also against TABC regulations) gives her another shot of liquor. She gets into her car, drunkenly backs out into traffic without looking, and is killed by an oncoming car. The bar behaved about as negligently as possible, the accident happened because of the alcohol, and her death occurred soon after her ingestion of the drinks. Her family would likely be able to bring a successful first-person dram shop case.
- A man arrives at a bar and appears intoxicated. He is given more alcohol, although the bar cuts him off at some point. He leaves the bar and about an hour later crashes his car into a wall after falling asleep and dies. His loved ones may or may not have a claim for a first-party dram shop case. It will depend on how obviously intoxicated the man was at the time he was still being served alcohol, as well as how well we can connect the injury to the alcohol.
- A completely sober man goes into a bar and orders a drink. Due to medication he is taking, he becomes more inebriated than he might have otherwise. The bar lets him leave and the bar's valet gives him his keys, even though he is clearly drunk. As soon as the man pulls away, he crashes his car into a tree and dies. Here, the family of the man would likely not have a first-person dram shop case because he wasn't obviously intoxicated at the time they sold him alcohol, but could have one based on the fact that the TABC generally requires bars to make efforts at keeping drunks off the road.
Lost someone because they were served too much at a bar? Call us today.
Our law firm has handled a significant number of first-person dram shop cases. We know how to use every available fact to prove your case and obtain compensation for those who have been overserved, or their families. Call us today at (855) 326-0000 to find out if you have a claim.
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