An intoxicated motorist might not be the only party liable in a drunk driving accident. Consider this example: A bartender knowingly overserves an already-intoxicated customer and then watches them stagger to their car and drive away. Can the bar be held liable for a drunk driving accident the customer causes later that night?
Texas dram shop laws allow an injured person or surviving family members of a wrongful death victim to take legal action against a bar, restaurant, club, or other establishment licensed to serve alcohol. This civil action serves to hold the establishment accountable for overserving a patron who thereafter causes injuries or fatality. Under Texas law, victims have the right to recover compensation for the losses suffered through this type of negligence.
If you were injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, we invite you to schedule a free case evaluation with an attorney from The Mejia Law Firm. Our experienced legal team will be able to evaluate the circumstances of your accident and advise you as to whether Texas dram shop laws apply to your case.
How Dram Shop Laws Work in Texas
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC) is the set of laws governing the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages in our state. These laws must be followed by all businesses licensed to provide, serve, and sell alcohol in the state of Texas.
The chapter on Civil Liabilities for Serving Beverages specifically lists the conditions under which a bar or restaurant may be held liable for the actions of an intoxicated patron.
Texas dram shop laws state that a business where alcohol is provided, sold, or served can be held liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated customer if the following conditions are met:
- The customer was visibly intoxicated and a potential hazard to themself or others
- The customer’s intoxicated state was the cause of the injuries you suffered
Furthermore, taking civil legal action against a bar or restaurant does not disqualify an injured plaintiff from holding the drunk driver liable for their wrongdoing. A dram shop claim may be filed against a negligent establishment in addition to the claim filed against the intoxicated motorist. This is often the most effective and comprehensive way to:
- Hold all negligent parties accountable for the actions that led to your injuries
- Recover compensation needed for medical bills, lost wages, vehicle damage, and more
- Discourage the motorist from ever driving drunk again
- Stop the establishment from continuing to overserve customers—and in this way, prevent countless future accidents
Do Dram Shop Laws Apply if a Minor Causes an Alcohol-Related Accident?
It’s illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol in Texas. It’s also illegal to furnish alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age. Yet minors are involved in alcohol-related accidents at shocking rates in our state. A 2021 study ranked Texas as the 8th worst state in the nation for teen drinking and driving. What happens if an underage drinker gets behind the wheel of a vehicle and causes a drunk driving accident?
This scenario is addressed in the laws created by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Under Texas dram shop laws, a business such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store can be held liable for selling alcohol to a minor who subsequently causes an accident.
Texas Social Host Liability Laws
Another type of liquor law, known as a social host liability law, often applies in cases involving underage drinking. This type of law aims to hold hosts of private parties liable for allowing guests to become over-intoxicated and then drive home. Although Texas social host liability laws do not generally extend to the actions of adult drinkers, an adult host may be liable if a minor consumes alcohol and then causes injury to another person.
Under Texas law, an adult 21 years or older may be liable for damages caused by an intoxicated minor if:
- The minor is under 18 years of age
- The adult is not the minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse
- The adult does not have court-appointed custody of the minor
Assuming the above-listed conditions are met, the adult may be held liable if they:
- Knowingly provided alcohol that in any way contributed to the minor’s intoxication, or
- Knowingly allowed the minor to drink alcohol on property the adult owns or leases.
What Evidence Do You Need in a Dram Shop Claim?
When filing a dram shop claim against a negligent establishment in Texas, you and your personal injury attorney will need to show that bar or restaurant staff knew the patron was dangerously intoxicated and continued to serve them anyway. You’ll also need to submit evidence linking your injuries with the actions of the intoxicated individual. Without considerable evidence, it will be difficult for you to secure financial compensation to cover your losses.
In order to build a strong dram shop claim, your attorney may look to evidence such as:
- Eyewitness testimony
- Security camera footage from inside the bar or restaurant
- Dashcam footage from vehicles parked outside the establishment
- Social media posts from or including the intoxicated patron
- Driver blood alcohol test results
- Police reports made at the accident scene
- Credit card receipts showing times of purchases
- Cell phone pictures and videos
What Damages Can You Recover in a Texas Dram Shop Claim?
Like other types of personal injury claims, dram shop claims seek to compensate injured parties for the physical, emotional, and financial injuries they suffered at the hands of a negligent party. This may include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Loss of future income after diminished earning capacity
- Property damage to your vehicle or other valuables
- Pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and other noneconomic damages
- Funeral and burial expenses, loss of consortium, and other damages in wrongful death cases
In some cases involving drunk driving, punitive damages may also apply. Punitive damages (those designed to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff) are rare in personal injury cases. These damages are only deemed applicable by a court in cases in which the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious or grossly negligent. They are seldom applied in Texas dram shop claims but may be appropriate in a lawsuit against the drunk motorist. Speak with your car accident attorney to discuss whether you have the right to seek punitive damages in your case.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Texas Dram Shop Claims?
A statute of limitations is a law restricting the amount of time you have to take legal action after injury. In Texas, dram shop claims generally must be filed within two years of the date of injury. There may be some exceptions to this time limit, but in most situations, your claim will become invalid if not filed by this state-mandated deadline.
The sooner you act after suffering an injury, the more time you can give your lawyer to build a strong case on your behalf. Texas dram shop laws are complex. It takes time to gather the evidence needed to successfully prove your right to compensation. If you were injured by the actions of an intoxicated person and you believe a bar or restaurant may have played a role, schedule a meeting with a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
Talk to a Houston Lawyer About Your Rights Under Texas Dram Shop Laws
The Mejia Law Firm in Houston, TX is a powerful advocate for people who suffered injury through the negligent actions of others. We devote our practice to defending the rights of those hurt in accidents that never should have occurred. With every personal injury case we take, we aim to improve the lives of our clients and make Houston a safer place for all of us who call it home.
Our attorneys have a thorough understanding of Texas dram shop laws. Call our office or fill out our online contact form to get in touch. We’ll start by scheduling a free consultation to evaluate your case. If we mutually agree to move forward on your case together, we’ll fight to make sure each and every liable party is held accountable for the wrongdoing that caused your injuries.