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Under the Texas Dram Shop Act, Who Is A "Recipient"?

In order to be successful in a dram shop case, your attorney will have to prove that the person who caused the accident was a "recipient" of alcohol who was improperly served by a bar, restaurant, or other provider. Where things get tricky is that there are actually two kinds of recipients, and the way the case is handled varies drastically depending upon which type of recipient the over-served customer was, or whether hey were a recipient at all.


Questions answered on this page:

  • Who is considered a "recipient" in lawsuits involving alcohol?
  • Under Texas dram shop law, what's the difference between an adult recipient and a minor recipient?

What is a recipient?

According to the dram shop provision of the Texas, a recipient is the person who receives alcohol from a provider:

Sec 2.02 CAUSES OF ACTION.

  • (b) Providing, selling, or serving an alcoholic beverage may be made the basis of a statutory cause of action under this chapter and may be made the basis of a revocation proceeding under Section 6.01(b) of this code upon proof that:
    • (1) at the time the provision occurred it was apparent to the provider that the individual being sold, served, or provided with an alcoholic beverage was obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others; and
    • (2) the intoxication of the recipient of the alcoholic beverage was a proximate cause of the damages suffered.

But why call them a recipient and not a customer? The answer is somewhat technical in nature, but, in a nutshell, bars and other providers of alcohol are not only required to use good judgment when selling alcohol. They must use good judgment when they sell, serve, or provide alcohol. While that may seem like a matter of semantics, it's actually quite an important distinction under the law. You see, if bars were only liable to customers (rather than liable to all recipients), then all any bar would ever have to do is "lose" any evidence that they took money from someone who they grossly over-served, and no matter how great the bar's sin, no matter how horrific the harm inflicted on an innocent person may be, the bar would be able to weasel out of liability every time.

To avoid this, the law says that bars are liable for breaking certain laws and improperly serving recipients, be they customers, someone the bar gave the alcohol to for free, employees who were helping themselves to drinks while on duty, or practically anyone else that the bar made the alcohol available to in such a manner as to be in violation of the law.

There are two kinds of recipients.

While bars and other alcohol providers can be liable for improperly serving recipients of alcohol, exactly what type of misconduct makes the bar liable depends entirely upon the type of recipient they improperly served.

Recipients come in two forms:

  • Adult recipients - Anyone over the age of 18
  • Minor recipients - Anyone under the age of 18

Adult Recipients

With respect to dram shop liability, bars are not held liable for just any kind of alcohol-related infractions. In fact, when Texas law makers created the Texas dram shop act, they didn't do so specifically to punish bars. They actually sought to restore balance to the law.

In the late 80s, the Texas Supreme Court decided that the negligent service of alcohol was indeed something that drunken driving accident victims could sue bars for. But in their decision, the court didn't really spell out exactly what constituted negligent service. Our state's lawmakers were worried that this would open the floodgates for lawsuits against bars over every perceived wrongful act under the sun, and who knew how the courts would interpret these cases? Could bars be sued for serving a single drink? Could they only be sued when the customer was falling-down drunk? What if they tried to call a cab for the customer but the customer refused? As you can see, that level of uncertainty could not stand.

In order to strike a balance between giving alcohol-related injury victims the right to seek compensation from bars under some circumstances and the desire of bars to not get sued for every minor infraction, the legislature passed the Texas Dram Shop Act. This act made it clear that bars and restaurants, etc. could indeed be sued, but only (as it relates to adult recipients) when they served someone who they already knew was dangerously drunk. In passing this law, they made it quite clear what bars had to do to avoid lawsuits (stop serving people once you know the adult recipient drunk).

The legal age to consume alcohol in Texas is 21. However, for the purposes of dram shop liability, an adult recipient is anyone 18 or older. But why? The answer has to do with when people are legally able to make their own decisions and be held accountable for their misconduct under the law. Generally speaking, when someone is 18-years-old, the law views them as adults, and so they assume responsibility for their own decision making. Shouldn't that then mean that the legal drinking age should be 18? Well, probably so, at least from a legal perspective.

Nevertheless and irrespective of the questionable logic of making the legal drinking age 21, it is undeniable that the legal age for decision making starts at 18. By extension, the reason 18 years of age makes someone an adult for the purposes of dram shop liability is precisely because bars can be liable for serving people who are drunk, not all the other stuff a bar could do wrong. If a patron chooses to get drunk, the law reasons, that's on them if they are 18 or older, just the same way that their decision to rob a bank or break into a house would see them punished as adults. But, once that adult recipient is obviously intoxicated to he point that they represent a clear and present danger to themselves or others, that's when the bar must exercise judgment or get sued if they don't. Even though it is a criminal violation for a bar to serve someone under the age of 21, again, the only thing a bar can get sued for with respect to serving adults is serving them more alcohol once they're dangerously drunk. As such, the law concerning legal drinking age being 21 is not germane to the legal issue that is debated in a Texas dram shop case.

All that to say, forget about the age of 21 being the legal drinking age. For the purposes of dram shop liability, 18-years-old is the line in the sand.

Minor Recipients

As it relates to persons under the age of 18, bars can be sued for providing any alcohol at all. All that must be shown is that they served the child and that the child was hurt or hurt someone else due to being intoxicated.

The Attorneys At Grossman Law Offices Have Experience In Handling Drunk Driving Accidents

The bottom line is that you need an attorney with tenacity and know-how to make sure all the dots are connected between the person who hit you and the bar that served them. The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices, based in Dallas, TX, have over 25 years of experience in litigating alcohol-related lawsuits. Call us at (855) 326-0000 to find out how we can help.


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