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Evidence Needed to Win Texas First-Party Dram Shop Cases

Many people who are familiar with dram shop law may assume that it only allows for claims in which a drunk driver kills or injures someone else after being over-served, but these third-party claims aren't the only types recognized in Texas. When a bar has served a drinker to excess, and, as a result of their intoxication, that customer later injures or kills themselves after leaving the bar, it allows their family to file a first-party dram shop cause of action. While this is most commonly manifested as a car accident, it also can include all manner of alcohol-related injuries, like someone being struck by a vehicle while crossing a highway.

These cases are more challenging than third-party claims, simply because juries will require considerable evidence of a bar's misconduct before they are willing to conclude that a bar is more at fault than the intoxicated customer themselves. After all, it's a perfectly natural reaction to think: why should the bar have to pay for the injuries when the injured person is the one who drank the alcohol and decided to drive while intoxicated? The best answer to this question is that some bars (many, in fact) are so irresponsible in their service of alcohol that it makes sense to punish their careless decision more than it does to punish an intoxicated person whose judgment was likely as impaired as their other faculties. That said, in order to help Texas jurors understand why a bar should be held liable in a first party claim, you'll need very compelling evidence.

In this article, Texas attorney Michael Grossman will describe the evidence necessary to win a first-party dram shop case under Texas law.


Questions answered on this page:

  • Can you sue a bar if they served too much alcohol to someone who then hurt or killed themselves?
  • Can first-party dram shop cases be won?
  • What makes first-party dram shop cases challenging?
  • How can you prove that a bar over-served a customer?

Evidence to Establish Liability In a First-Party Case.

In any tort case, the plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) has to prove to a court that a party's actions or failure to act, known as negligence, caused injury or death to someone else. When it comes to the improper service of alcohol, there are many illegal acts a bar can commit, but only one particular offense will cause them to be liable for injuries a patron suffers or a patron's death.

In first-party cases, a plaintiff's attorney must specifically prove that the bar or restaurant continued to serve the customer alcohol after they knew (or should have known) that he or she was already intoxicated, to the point that they were a danger to themselves and others. This is called the obvious intoxication standard. To learn more, you can read our obvious intoxication overview page. But, in a nutshell, any dram shop case, first-party or otherwise, hinges on whether or not we can prove that the bar knew or should have known that they were serving someone who had already had way too much to drink.

While this is indeed a tough standard to meet, you can rest assured we're up to the challenge. Our attorneys have won hundreds of dram shop cases, despite the unique difficulties they involve.

There are at least three kinds of evidence that we can use to prove our client was obviously intoxicated in a first-party case:

  • Testimony: Some of the best evidence you'll ever have comes from eyewitnesses. They can explain, for instance, that they saw a first-party plaintiff stumbling around, his eyes bloodshot, slurring his words, and agitated BEFORE the bar served another drink to them. In addition, sometimes bar employees --when deposed under oath-- will admit that they served the customer when he was already a little drunk or after serving him multiple drinks.
  • Documents: There are numerous documents your lawyer should secure to prove a first-party case. Receipts from the patron can prove how much they were served in a certain period of time, their blood-alcohol level if there was a blood draw can prove how intoxicated they were at the time of a crash, and the employee handbook from the alcohol provider can indicate whether or not there were policies in place to prevent over-service.
  • Toxicologist testimony: A toxicologist is an expert witness familiar with the effects of substances on the human body who can explain to a jury how intoxicated the customer was around the last time they were served. This is accomplished through reverse extrapolating and drawing scientifically sound inferences from the physical data (such as a blood serum sample), all of which allows the toxicologist to testify as to what signs of intoxication the customer would likely have been exhibiting when they were served additional alcohol.
  • Any records of fast lawlessness: Data, such as police reports and TABC investigative reports, which suggests that a bar had a history of breaking the law, is among the more compelling evidence we can present to juries in a dram shop case.

As in all cases, no single one of these pieces of evidence will ever be the "smoking gun" that shows the bar is responsible for your loss. Instead, it takes painstaking work to piece together exactly what the bar did, and what they should have done better to prevent the accident from occurring.

Evidence Used to Establish The Losses Sustained

In any civil case, whether its dram shop, contract disputes, or property litigation, it's not enough to show that someone did something wrong. You must also prove that you were harmed as a result of their wrong doing. Courts aren't "moral police" that chastise parties for making mistakes. Their role in our system of justice is to restore victims as much as possible to their condition prior to the incident.

By way of example, if you were walking out of a store, saw someone run into your car in a parking lot, and the incident caused $1,000 in damages to your car, you're only really entitled to about $1,000. Most people easily understand this. The losses sustained in an injurious or fatal dram shop case are much more complicated because they're not as easily identified. But with the right attorney and the right evidence, juries will likely ensure that fair compensation is provided to make accident victims whole.

To document our clients' losses for a jury, we arm ourselves with extensive evidence such as medical bills, W2 forms to show lost wages, statements from psychiatrists and counselors to show that mental anguish occurred, etc.

As with all evidence, your attorney must provide every valuable statement, document, or bill into evidence in a way that is not only compelling, but meets with the stringent requirements of the Texas rules of evidence. It takes lawyers many years of formal education and on-the-job training to master these arcane and confusing rules.

Grossman Law Offices Knows How To Win First Party Dram Shop Lawsuits

No matter the unique circumstances of your case, it's time to call an attorney who's helped others in your exact situation. We know it seems intimidating and even a little confusing, but that's why we're here. Call the experienced Texas dram shop attorneys at Grossman Law Offices at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation about your potential first-party dram shop claim.


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