Fraternities and Sororities Can Be Liable for Alcohol-Related Injuries Under Texas Law
Fraternities and sororities frequently come under scrutiny for accidents caused by drunken members or instances of alcohol poisoning among those who attend their functions. Many times, these organizations (on or very near to college campuses) will have parties, special events, and initiation (rush) events that involve copious amounts of alcohol being consumed, often by under-age recipients. When someone is harmed due to intoxication, Texas law provides a path to hold these organizations financially accountable.
In this article, Texas dram shop attorney describes how liability works when fraternities and sororities provide alcohol.
Questions answered in this section:
- How and when do Texas' Dram Shop laws apply to fraternities and sororities?
- What recourse is available for those who have been harmed?
- What if the person injured in an alcohol related accident was a minor?
How and Texas dram shop laws apply to fraternities and sororities.
Texas dram shop laws are the set of laws which dictate the circumstances under which bars, restaurants, and liquor stores can be held liable for injuries caused by or to intoxicated customers. However, these laws do not apply exclusively to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores.
In fact, the law doesn't use the term bar or restaurant at all. Instead, it refers to alcohol establishments as "providers." But providers come in a few different forms. To make this rather dense bit of terminology a little more palatable, we say that providers can be categorized as:
- Licensed providers - People and businesses who hold a license to sell alcohol.
- Unlicensed providers - People or businesses who sell alcohol even though they don't have a license.
- Social hosts - People who throw parties or social gatherings where alcohol is made available to guests for free.
These different types of providers are held to different standards:
- How licensed providers incur liability - There are two things a licensed provider can do to become liable for alcohol-related injuries and fatalities:
- They can sell, serve, or provide alcohol to a minor (someone under the age of 18).
- They can sell, serve, or provide alcohol to an adult (someone 18 or older) who is "obviously intoxicated." Obvious intoxication means that they recipient of the alcohol is drunk to the point that it's obvious that they are intoxicated, should anyone bother to pay attention to them. Under this obvious intoxication standard, licensed providers of alcohol are not liable just because they got a customer drunk. Instead, their liability is only brought into existence when they choose to provide even a single drop of additional alcohol to someone who they know or should know it's dangerous to serve alcohol to, due to their state of intoxication.
How unlicensed providers incur liability - Unlicensed providers are more or less held to the same standard as licensed providers, in that they can be sued when the customer is sold alcohol after the point that their intoxicated state is obvious or when they sell alcohol to children. However, unlike licensed providers who are held liable when the sell, serve, or provide alcohol, unlicensed providers can only become a licensed provider by selling alcohol. The idea is that if someone is not officially a bar or restaurant (they don't have a liquor license), yet they sell alcohol to someone, they should be treated under the law the same way that a licensed provider is treated.
For instance, if someone were to pretend to be a doctor and they hurt a patient, it makes sense that you can sue them under a medical malpractice theory of liability. Even though they weren't really a doctor, since they were doing "doctor stuff," they are held to the same standard as a doctor. Unlicensed providers are therefore held to the same standard as licensed providers. But it's important to note that one cannot become an unlicensed provider by serving alcohol or providing alcohol. No, the only conduct that makes someone an unlicensed provider is selling alcohol, and once they do so and obtain the status of being an unlicensed provider, they are held to the same standard as a licensed provider.
- How social hosts incur liability - Social hosts are only liable when they make alcohol available to children (under the age of 18) who are not their own children. When a social host makes alcohol available to a minor and that minor then hurts themselves or others due to their intoxicated state, the social host can be held liable simply for making the alcohol available. It does not matter whether the child's intoxication was obvious or not.
So how does all of that apply to fraternities and sororities?
Knowing what the various types of providers are, we can rule out that fraternities and sororities can ever be licensed providers of alcohol. It's just not likely that the state would ever license such an organization to sell alcohol. However, if a fraternity or sorority sells alcohol to guests, they most certainly can become unlicensed providers of alcohol. While it's unlikely that a fraternity or sorority will ever open their own underground bar, it is incredibly common for frat parties to feature a cover charge, money collected for a "beer run." or parties wherein they charge per cup (sort of like an alcohol buffet; a guest buys a cup and gets unlimited refills). All of these activities arguably count as the unlicensed selling of alcohol. If such unlicensed sales occur and an obviously intoxicated adult is sold alcohol, then the fraternity or sorority can incur liability for injuries caused by or to the intoxicated customer.
Further, fraternities and sororities most certainly be classified as social hosts any time that an upperclassman who is 21 or older buys or otherwise makes alcohol available to someone who is under the age of 18. Any time that high school kids attend college parties, or when 17-year-olds attend college, you have a recipe for social host liability.
What compensation is available for those who've been harmed?
When fraternities and sororities have been found to be liable in a personal injury case against them based on a violation of the dram shop statute, there are two main types of damages that may be sought from them:
- When a death occurs. A wrongful death suit is when a family member or the estate of the deceased brings suit for the losses related to the death of their loved one. Compensation can be based on economic losses if the person who died was a family member who contributed to the family's financial well-being. The compensation can be based on loss of consortium or the pain of losing a spouse, parent, or child. The other main form of compensation here would be survival damages. Whereas, wrongful death damages are based on the pain and suffering of the family member who lost the deceased, survival damages are based on the pain and suffering of the person between the time of the injury and their subsequent death.
- When the victim survives. The individual who was hurt by the over-service of alcohol can file a personal injury suit and seek damages for themselves. This could be money lost from missing work, medical bills, car repair, needed surgeries, pain medication, and long-term care needs. Further, victims can be entitled to "pain and suffering" compensation for the misery and physical anguish they've endured.
Our attorneys know how to hold fraternities and sororities liable when they break Texas alcohol laws.
If you or someone you love was injured due to the negligent responsibility of a fraternity or sorority, there is help for you. Our attorneys know that the actions of these parties must be held accountable and the people who have been hurt deserve to be compensated. Grossman Law Offices will work to help you enforce your rights under Texas Dram Shop law. Contact our attorneys at (855) 326-0000 and discover your legal options.
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