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Who Can Sue a Bar For a Drunk Driving Accident?

After a serious drunk driving accident, many people suffer. It’s not just family members, but friends, neighbors, and coworkers. The losses radiate out: Little League coaches aren’t there for practice, deacons aren’t at church on Sunday, and patients’ doctor can’t treat their illnesses.

But not everyone is given the legal right to sue the bar. In order to file a drunk driving accident claim or lawsuit against a negligent bar or other establishment, you must first and foremost establish that you have “standing” before the court. Put simply, an individual has standing if he or she has suffered an injury and has damages that, under Texas law, can be resolved by a court.

In this article, one of Texas’ most experienced dram shop attorneys, Michael Grossman, explains the effect of the Texas Dram Shop Act and breaks down who has standing to bring a lawsuit when a bar’s unlawful alcohol service causes an accident.


Questions answered on this page:

  • What are the elements of a non-fatal Dram Shop case?
  • What are the elements of a fatal Dram Shop case?
  • Who can sue an establishment that serves alcohol in Dram Shop case?
  • How does my attorney prove these elements?

Claimants in injury cases:

When alcohol has caused an accident that thankfully didn’t result in a fatality, the following people have potential claims against the bar:

  • Innocent victims who were hurt by a drunk driver. Anyone who was actually hurt in an alcohol-related accident where a bar over-served a patron has a third-part dram shop case against the bar. For example, if a family of four was in a car accident with a drunk driver and only the two passengers in the front seat were hurt, then only those two people have potential claims. While the two in the back seat may have endured an unholy scare, if they’re not physically hurt, there’s likely no claim for them.
  • The drunk driver him or herself can file a claim as well. These first party dram shop cases allow those who were themselves over-served to sue the bar if they become injured in an accident due to their intoxication.
  • A limited class of family members:

    If a parent, spouse, or child was extremely injured in the accident, other family members might have “loss of consortium” claims. These apply where a family member can no longer perform a familial function they could before because their injuries are so severe. For example, if a husband became paralyzed and was unable to work around the house or have sexual relations with his wife, the wife could have a claim against the bar even if she were not personally hurt in the accident.

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Claimants in fatal cases:

If someone is killed prematurely by a drunk driver that was over-served by an alcohol establishment, that also falls under a larger category called “Wrongful Death”. Wrongful Death cases are determined as such when there was negligence by one party that caused the death of another. So, since the bar was negligent in their duties to prevent over-serving an obviously intoxicated person, and that person then drives on the sidewalk and kills a pedestrian, it is considered a wrongful death. Head over to the Wrongful Death page to learn what elements must be fulfilled for a death to be wrongful.

In Wrongful Death and, consequently, Dram Shop Act cases, Texas law allows only three groups of people file claims:

  • Spouses. This must be either a legal, current spouse or individuals in “informal marriages.” An informal marriage is where a couple lives together in the state of Texas and holds themselves out as husband and wife.
  • Children. Natural or adopted children may file claims, but step-children and those who cannot prove the decedent was a parent cannot bring claims.
  • Parents. Again, natural or adoptive parents may file claims. Step-parents may not.

You’ll notice that live-in boyfriends and girlfriends cannot sue bars when they lose one another. The United State Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges established not only gay marriage, but also due process for same-sex couples. This means that a spouse of a same-sex couple may now pursue compensation under the Texas Dram Shop Act.

In a wrongful death dram shop case, the claim can be a first-party case (wherein an intoxicated person dies in a drunken driving accident and the family sues on their behalf) or a third-party case (wherein the decedent was an innocent third-party and their relatives sue the bar and the drunk driver).

What you’ll have to prove in order to win.

There are certain elements that must be met for a an establishment that serves alcohol to be liable under the Texas Dram Shop Act:

  1. The bar must have served an obviously intoxicated person.
  2. That intoxicated person must then cause an injury due to their intoxication.
  3. In order to have a claim, someone must have suffered an injury at the hands of the intoxicated patron who was over-served by the bar.

We understand that there is a certain amount of responsibility that adults must adhere to when drinking. However, it is against Texas law to serve a drunk person, period. So just by serving an obviously intoxicated person, the establishment is in violation of Texas laws. Before the Texas Dram Shop Act in 1987 there was a law against over-serving an obviously intoxicated person, however, there was no real remedy to hold establishments accountable to those who were injured by their illegal behavior.

Because of the Texas Dram Shop Act, there is a way for victims who were injured by over-served patrons to hold bars accountable for breaking the law. The bar isn’t going to just come out and admit that they were over-serving a patron, you’re going to have to establish a “standing” before the court, which involves establishing that the criteria above was fulfilled due to the bar’s negligence.

Why you need an attorney.

No matter who was injured or lost, it’s important that you reach out to us. We can help hold responsible the bar or restaurant who negligently caused your pain. Bars are going to do anything they can to skirt liability. Receipts disappear, camera footage is lost, and all of the witnesses may not remember who was at the bar that night. This is why you need an attorney that will leave no stone un-turned to find out the truth. The over-service of bar patron is a dangerous practice and bars should not profit from the harm that over-service inflicts on the community.

There are very few law firms that have more experience pursuing and winning Texas dram shop cases than Grossman Law Offices. Where many personal injury firms won’t even take a dram shop case, our attorneys have helped hundreds of Texans receive compensation in Texas dram shop lawsuits. If you have questions about your case, call us at (855) 326-0000. If we can’t win your case, you don’t owe us a cent.


Related Dram Shop Articles for Further Reading:

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Call us anytime toll Free 1-855-326-0000