How Much Alcohol Is "Too Much" According To The Law In Texas?
Everyone knows that it's perfectly legal for adults to purchase alcohol at bars and restaurants. Everyone also knows that when too much is consumed people become dangerous on the roads and elsewhere. So, where's the "line"? When does alcohol service go from acceptable to illegal?
In this article, we'll discuss what Texas laws says about intoxication limits and misconceptions about intoxication. But don't miss our helpful Comprehensive Guide to Dram Shop Law page to learn about how Texas law allows accident victims to sue the drunk driver and the bar who served them.
Questions answered on this page:
- How does the law in Texas define intoxication?
- How can bars tell if someone is intoxicated?
- What is the maximum number of drinks that a bar can serve?
The Legal Standard Under Texas Law
Under the Texas Dram Shop Act, it is against the law for bars, restaurants, liquor stores, etc., to serve alcohol to anyone who is obviously intoxicated to the extent that they present a clear danger to themselves and others. If alcohol providers serve someone who is obviously intoxicated, they have broken the law and they assume at least partial responsibility any injuries that may occur as a result of the drinker's intoxication.
So, the short answer to the question of how much alcohol is too much is any amount of alcohol past the point of obvious intoxication. Consider the following hypotheticals.
- Bob goes to a Chilli's restaurant and orders a shot and a beer. He consumes them before ordering his meal, and then orders another shot. When he orders his next drink, the waitress can tell that he's slurring his words. Should the server serve him the third drink / second shot that he ordered? Technically, that would probably be okay. You see, if he's slurring his words, that's a pretty good sign that he is obviously intoxicated. However, Chilli's would not be liable for serving him alcohol just because he was obviously intoxicated at the time they served him. They'd only be liable if they serve him once he reaches the point that he is obviously intoxicated to the point that he is a clear danger to himself and others. If he has one more drink and is slurring his speech, dozing off or appearing glassy-eyed, seems to be having trouble holding his head up, etc., then that's a different story. The for the bar to serve him any additional alcohol would certainly make them liable.
- Steve is drinking at Buffalo Wild Wings. He's only had one beer, but he started drinking on an empty stomach and he weighs 120 lbs., so his one drink has gotten him pretty drunk. As he walks to the bathroom, his server notices that he's swaying back and forth. When he returns, Steve tells his waitress that he wants one for the road. If she ere to serve him this additional drink she'd be in violation of the law, and she'd expose Buffalo Wild Wings to tremendous liability.
- Karen has been barhopping. She shows up to Hooters already quite drunk. The Hooters staff can tell that she's drunk, so they decide that they'll only give her watered down beer. How does the law view this? Well, she was obviously intoxicated to the point that she represented... (and so forth), so they have an obligation not to serve her any drinks. Doing so will mean they are in violation of the law.
- Imagine that Heather goes to an Olive Garden and sits at the bar. She starts drinking at noon and doesn't leave until the restaurant closes at midnight. In that twelve hour period, she consumes 24 shots. Now, 24 shots is a lot of alcohol, but, if she is served just a couple of drinks per hour and had plenty to eat, she could have very well consumed all 24 shots without having ever gotten drunk enough to raise a red flag. In short, it's perfectly fine for Olive Garden to serve her 24 shots in that time period.
The point we're making here is twofold:
- First, there is no set number of drinks that is too many. It doesn't matter if it takes one drink to get a customer drunk or twenty, once a bar can tell that the drinker is obviously intoxicated to the point that they represent a clear and present danger to themselves and others, the bar is opening themselves up to the wrath of a Texas jury by serving even one single drop of additional alcohol.
- Second, bars can't be sued for "getting someone drunk." This is an important distinction. Many people learn of dram shop cases and utterly reject the idea of suing bars on the basis that it's not fair to sue bars just for serving alcohol. Well, the law and the courts agree with them. That's patently NOT what dram shop cases are about. They're instead based on the idea that bars can serve all the alcohol that they want so long as they cut the patron off once they become dangerously drunk. To put it another way, bars have to really break the rules to a profound degree to be liable for drunken driving accidents, etc.