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Who Can Sue a Bar For a Drunk Driving Accident?

After someone is killed or injured in a 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' doctors can't treat their illnesses.

While Texas Dram Shop law allows victims and family members to sue bars that negligently over-serve drunk drivers who cause crashes, 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 establish that you have standing before the court. In legal terms, an individual has standing if he or she has suffered damages for which a Texas court can order those responsible to pay compensation. Put more simply and applied specifically to a Dram Shop claim, this means they were either injured by an over-served drunk driver or are the immediate family member of someone who died in a drunk-driving crash.

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 contributes to an accident.


Questions Answered On This Page:

  • What individuals have standing to file a Dram Shop cause of action?
  • What are the elements of a wrongful death Dram Shop claim?
  • How does my attorney prove these elements?

Valid Claimants in Dram Shop Injury Cases

When service of alcohol to an intoxicated person causes 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-party 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. 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. If the intoxicated driver is killed, their immediate family would be eligible to file a wrongful death dram shop claim.
  • 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 have 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 was not personally hurt in the accident.

Potential Claimants in Wrongful Death Dram Shop Claims

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 involve situations in which negligence by one party caused the death of another. So, if a 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 wrongful death cause of action to be valid.

In Wrongful Death cases in general, including Dram Shop claims, Texas law allows only three groups of people to file claims on behalf of the deceased:

  • Spouses. This must be either a legal, current spouse or individuals in common law marriages, where a couple lives together in the state of Texas and holds themselves out as husband and wife despite never having been formally wed.
  • Children. Natural or adopted children may file claims, but step-children and those who cannot prove the decedent was a parent cannot.
  • 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. It is also worth noting that the United State Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges established not only civil recognition of gay marriages, but also due process for same-sex couples. This means that a spouses in same-sex relationships may also 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).

Elements Required to Prove Dram Shop Liability

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 adults take on when they choose to consume alcohol. However, it is against Texas law to serve a drunk person, period. So just by serving an obviously intoxicated person, the establishment is already in violation of Texas laws. Before the Texas Dram Shop Act was passed in 1987, there was a law against over-serving an obviously intoxicated person, but there was no real remedy to hold establishments financially accountable to those who were injured by their illegal behavior.

Because of the Texas Dram Shop Act, there is now a way for victims who were injured by over-served patrons to hold bars accountable for breaking the law. However, a bar isn't going to just come out and admit that they were over-serving a patron, you're going to have to establish this through evidence like receipts, security camera footage, and witness testimony.

How Grossman Law Offices Can Help You Hold Bad Bars Accountable

No matter who was injured or lost, it's important that you reach out to us. We can help hold the bar or restaurant who negligently caused your pain responsible. Bars are going to do anything they can to skirt liability. Receipts disappear, camera footage is lost, and as time passes, witnesses will be less and less likely to remember with any certainty who exactly was drinking in their vicinity at the bar they visited. This is why you need an attorney that will leave no stone unturned 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 these cases because of the unique challenges they present, 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 for a free consultation.


Related Dram Shop Articles for Further Reading: