A Drunk Driving Accident Causing Injury or Death Needs to be Handled Much Differently Than a Normal Car Accident
A number of factors combine to make Dallas a hotbed of drunk driving and drunk driving accidents. Dallas is a huge sprawling city with an active nightlife, but cabs are rare and public transportation is limited, causing everyone to drive practically everywhere. Texas actually leads the nation in number of drunk driving accidents each year.
Unfortunately, some people don’t responsibly designate drivers when they go out on the town, resulting in an uncommonly high rate of drunk drivers. The laws regarding who can be held accountable after drunken driving accidents can be confusing for people with no legal experience. Thus, if you have been injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, then you’re likely struggling to figure out how to proceed. You’re not alone. The debate of who should be responsible for the damage caused by drunken drivers dates back to the time when horses propelled carriages instead of engines, and it’s still a heated argument in a thriving modern metropolis like Dallas.
Of course, there’s no debate over whether drunk drivers should be held liable for accidents, injuries and fatalities they cause, for all adults should be responsible for their own actions. The point of contention centers around the liability of bars, restaurants and other drinking establishments – should they also be monetarily responsible for the harm caused by drivers whom they over-serve past the point of drunkenness? Despite objections, Texas law says yes and allows victims of drunk driving accidents to seek compensation from negligent drinking establishments through a subset of laws called dram shop laws.
Cases We’ve Handled
In our last 24 years of winning drunk driving cases, we have sued some of the largest and most prominent establishments in Texas under the Dram Shop Act, including:
- The Londoner
- The Beach Hut
- The Wild Turkey
- The Oasis at Lake Travis
- Plucker’s Wing Bar
- Anderson Mill Tavern
- Fat Daddy’s
- Cabaret East
- The Jailhouse Saloon in Spring, TX
- John’s Place Pub
Even a Drunk Driver Can Sue
Even a drunk driver who caused a wreck and injured him or herself can sue the drinking establishment that served him or her using dram shop laws. However, not all drinking establishments serve their patrons negligently, so not all drunk driving accidents are actionable through dram shop lawsuits. Right now, you’re probably wondering how you can know for sure if the details of your case warrant a legitimate dram shop lawsuit. To find out, call Grossman Law Offices for a free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll-free). After discovering the details of your case, we will give you an honest assessment of how we can help you proceed. Our drunk driving accident specialists will be direct and try to tell you exactly where you stand from a legal perspective.
Featuring Michael Grossman and his team of associates, the Dallas drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices has spent the last 24 years successfully resolving dram shop claims. During that time, we’ve come across practically every conceivable scenario that can arise in drunk driving accident cases, so we can handle any details that arise and deliver compensation to our clients, whether through dram shop laws or solely from the drunk driver. First, we want to help you better understand the laws involved in your case, so you can feel accustomed to the difficult situation in which you find yourself.
We’d love to be able to hit the reset button and undo the damage a drunken driver has done to you and your family. Sadly, life is not as simple as a game of Super Mario Brothers. Realistically, the only think we do is make sure the parties who negligently injured you or caused your loved one’s death is brought to justice and forced to pay for their negligence.
What is a Dram Shop Case?
With drunken driving causing more and more injuries, death and property damage every year, the Texas State Legislature sought to pass dram shop laws and stem this damaging problem by forcing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to their customers responsibly. However, many people still ignore the noble intent of dram shop laws and view them in a negative light because they believe these laws permit drunk drivers to pass accountability for their negligence to others. They question why someone else should be responsible for the actions of an adult.
However, that view is neglects to consider the important role these laws play in protecting the greater good. The legal level of intoxication of .08 percent blood alcohol concentration was not selected randomly but represents the scientifically proven level at which rational decision-making and physical and mental ability becomes negatively affected. In other words, legally intoxicated people lack the ability to reasonably decide whether they can drive safely. Dram shop laws can efficiently reduce the hazard drunk driving presents to the general public by making the servers in a bar or restaurant responsible for discontinuing service to anyone who is obviously drunk.
The Necessity of Dram Shop Laws
If you’re still skeptical of the necessity for dram shop laws, compare the responsibility a drinking establishment has to its patrons to that a dentist has to his or her patients after performing oral surgery. If the dentist uses anesthetic on his patients that he knows will impair their ability to drive, then he cannot let them get behind the wheel immediately following surgery. If they get into accidents while impaired by the drugs, then the dentist is arguably more responsible for the accident than the driver him or herself and should be held liable for any damages. The same standard should hold for drinking establishments that know the detrimental effect drinking can have on driving but over-serve their patrons anyway.
Even though licensed bars and restaurants can legally sell liquor, their interests still conflict directly with those of the general public. Drinking establishments want to sell more drinks in order to increase profits, and their servers encourage this process in order to make bigger tips. But, that increased business means more dangerous driving conditions for all of us because more alcohol sold invariably translates to more drunken patrons, more drunken drivers and more drunk driving accidents. By enacting dram shop laws that hold bars and restaurants accountable for serving liquor responsibly, the Texas State Legislature can combat this problem.
Drunk Drivers Still Liable
However, this doesn’t mean that Texas dram shop laws allow drunk drivers to avoid paying for the harm they’ve done, nor are dram shop laws intended to bring back prohibition. Any dram shop lawsuit should be coupled with a civil suit against the drunk driver, provided he or she is solvent, and the law still allows Texans to drink to their hearts content in private.
On the other hand, it’s not just illegal to drive while legally intoxicated, but also to even be in public while drunk. Therefore, drinking establishments are negligent if they serve customers who are obviously inebriated, whether or not those patrons intend to drive afterward. Thus, when the drunken patrons who were negligently served by bars or restaurants cause accidents, injuries and our deaths, then the bar should be held accountable for its negligence.
Elements of a Dram Shop Case
The same as any other wrongful death or personal injury case, all successful dram shop claims must contain four components:
- Duty – No matter what they’re interaction, all people owe each other the duty to act reasonably to provide for each other’s safety. Exactly what is implied by reasonably behavior depends upon the interaction of the parties involved and the specific details of the circumstances. For the sake of our discussion, drivers have the duty of being sober while operating motor vehicles, and drinking establishments must sell alcohol to their patrons in a responsible fashion.
- Breach – Someone neglected the required duty in a given situation. In drunken driving accidents, a breach happens when the driver operates a car while intoxicated or a bar serves a customer past the point of obvious inebriation before he or she drives.
- Causation – The accident was caused by the breach of duty. In drunken driving accidents, the driver’s intoxication and/or the negligent service of alcohol by a bar or restaurant caused the accident.
- Damages – The victim, also known as the plaintiff, suffered injuries and monetary losses due to the accident.
Resolutions for Injuries Suffered in Drunken Driving Accidents
Whether compensation is sought from the drunk driver, the drinking establishment or both, victims of drunken driving accidents and the loved ones of drunk driving fatalities have the right to seek basically the same types of compensation as plaintiffs in other personal injury or wrongful death cases. When drunken driving accidents injure victims, the plaintiffs can seek restitution for:
- Past and future medical bills
- Damage to property
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages due time away from work while in the hospital or seeking treatment later
- Reduced future earning potential caused by debilitating injuries
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of household services
Resolutions for Wrongful Death
Just the same as workers’ compensation, medical practice, and other wrongful fatality claims, the loved ones of someone killed by a drunk driver can sue for both wrongful death damages and survival damages. Wrongful death damages may be sought by every member of the immediate family who has suffered personal losses as a result of their loved one’s death – spouses, children, parents and in some cases siblings. Wrongful death damages may include:
- Compensation for funeral and burial expenses
- Compensation for any medical bills charged to the victim before he or she died
- Compensation for emotional and mental distress
- Restitution for loss of financial support the victim supplied to the family
- Compensation for loss of the irreplaceable consortium and unique familial love provided by the deceased
The Texas Survival Statute
Survival damages, on the other contrary, can only be sought under the Texas Survival Statute by the closest living relative of the deceased, with this right passing down from spouse to children to parents and finally to siblings. Survival damages effectively give the closest living relative of the deceased the right to pursue the damages for which he or she would have been able to file a personal injury lawsuit had he or she survived the fatal accident. Restitution for survival damages may include:
- The cost of future treatments that would have been required
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering experienced by the victim during the accident
- Mental and emotional distress that would have been experienced by the victim during rehabilitation and recovery
- Wages lost during the time the victim’s hospital stay and recovery time
- Reduced future earning potential caused by any crippling injuries
According to Texas law, drunk driving accidents don’t just suddenly happen but are the result of a chain of events that begins before the driver has even had a drunk – when he or she goes out for a night on the town in his or her car. Next, the driver consumes his or her first alcoholic beverage before having another and another. Eventually, the driver has surpassed the legal level of drunkenness, and then he or she gets back behind the wheel, causing an accident.
To be considered a proximate cause of an accident, the drinking establishment doesn’t even need to be physically involved in the wreck – just like any other accident. Let’s take a look at another type of accident to understand the concept of proximate cause better. The driver of a sports car runs a red light, causing the driver of a car going through the green light in the other direction to slam on his or her brakes and get rear-ended by the truck traveling behind the car. While the sports car avoids any damage in the accident, the driver was the proximate cause of the harm suffered by the drivers and passengers of both the other car and the truck.
To prove that a drinking establishment was the proximate cause of the drunken driving accident that injured you or killed your loved one, you must be able to prove that the drinking establishment’s servers should have spotted obvious signs of drunkenness in the driver and stopped service before he or she got behind the wheel. Success with a dram shop claims often relies greatly on finding a Dallas drunk driving accident law firm with a great deal of experience handling these cases because bars and restaurants know how to contest these allegations. In order to avoid liability for the actions of those they serve, Texas drinking establishments must attempt one of two methods for detecting customers who have surpassed the legal limit of drunkenness:
- Direct evidence – Obvious external physical signs that customers are intoxicated, including: falling down, an inability to remain awake, slurred speech, loud talking preoccupation with lights, aggressive behavior, or unbalanced sitting, standing or walking.
- Circumstantial evidence – Many habitual drinkers show no obvious signs of drunkenness because they can “handle their liquor.” Thus, servers must turn to other means to spot these drunken customers, like using different colored glasses or coasters to track the amount of drinks served. However, modern point-of-sale ordering systems present the best way of using circumstantial evidence to detect when patrons have reached the legal limit. Every time a customer orders another drink, the server knows how many the patron has ordered and point-of-sale systems also track when the tab was started. If a server knows this information and has received the requisite Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission training, then he or she can come to a rough estimate of how drunk the patron has become.
In reality, most drunken driving accidents are caused by severely drunk drivers and not those who have had a one or two drinks too many. The servers in responsible drinking establishments should be able to spot these intoxicated drivers with even a minimal effort and stop them before they become too drunk to drive.
Foreseeability and Cause-In-Fact
No matter what state you are in, intoxication is a cause-in-fact for every accident involving a drunk driver. However, it’s not easy to convince a jury that a bar or restaurant should have foreseen a drunken driving accident based upon the blatant drunkenness of the driver before he or she left the drinking establishment. Only those accidents that should have been foreseen are actionable. With hundreds of dram shop cases under our belts, the experienced attorneys in our Dallas drunk driving accident law firm have learned how to establish that accidents should have been foreseeable accidents.
So you can better grasp the notion of what’s foreseeable, let’s take a look at an old wrongful death case in which a little girl was killed while waiting for the subway. The details of this case involve a man who was concealing a large cache of fireworks under his coat as he waited for a train on a crowded subway platform. As people jockeyed for position in anticipation of the arrival of the train, someone slammed into the man, causing him to drop of fireworks that fell onto the third rail and ignited with an explosion that toppled a light pole.
An ill-fated small girl happened to be standing under the pole and was crushed to death, causing her parents to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the subway company, claiming it had failed to provide safe conditions for its passengers. Although, the family lost the lawsuit because the court ruled that the subway company could not be expected to foresee that one of its passengers was hiding fireworks. On the other hand, if the girl had been knocked off the platform onto the third rail, then her parents may have been successfully for that would have been a foreseeable result of a crowded platform.
First Party Claims
Dram shop claims come in two types: first party claims and third party dram shop claims. When drunken drivers injure themselves in wrecks and file suit against the drinking establishment that negligently over-served, then that’s a first party dram shop claim. Third party claims occur when drunk drivers injure or kill innocent people in accidents, and then the victims seek compensation from the negligent drinking establishment.
First party claims are unique because the intoxicated person, or their family in the case of a wrongful death, will bring the claim against the licensed provider themselves. This is harder to prove because of potential jury bias against the drunk driver whom jurors may see as irresponsible and careless. The driver must show that the establishment bears more responsibility for the accident than he does. He must prove that they were in a better position to demonstrate better judgment, and that with their liquor license comes the responsibility not to over-serve patrons.
Texas Modified Comparative Fault
Determining who was most to blame for an accident, known as comparative liability, decides the success or failure of any first party dram shop claim. For a bar or restaurant to be held accountable in first party dram shop claims in the state of Texas, the drinking establishment must be more than 50 percent at fault for the accident. To illustrate, let’s consider an accident that’s caused by two drivers who simultaneously change into the same lane. While both parties are to blame for an accident of this type at least in part, one is more at fault than the other. One of them had to turn on his or her blinker first or began moving into the lane first. In many of these types of wrecks, comparative liability can be easily ascertained because one of the drivers didn’t turn on his or her blinker at all.
In first party dram shop claims, on the other hand, comparative liability is rarely that easy to prove in the plaintiffs favor. As a matter of fact, the degree of difficulty in doing so if so great that many lawyers refuse to take first party dram shop claims and very fewer know what it takes to win them. Our knowledgeable and time-tested Dallas drunk driving accident law firm at Grossman Law Offices have learned how to convince juries that drinking establishment were the most to blame for drunk driving accidents because we have repeatedly won first party dram shop claims involving contested comparative liability issues. If you find yourself in a first party dram shop case, we can likely help you too.
Third Party Claims
Third party dram shop claims do not let drunk drivers get out of financial accountability for the harm caused by their negligence, but they make sure all the negligent parties that caused your accident are forced to pay for what they’ve done. Dram shop litigation can be vital to the needs of plaintiffs when the drunk driver who caused a wreck is insolvent and unable to pay for damages. At least in that instance, the injured victim can still pursue damages from the drinking establishment instead of being forced to pay for damages him or herself. Even if you previously stood against dram shop laws, you must see their sensibility. Sober bartenders and servers must be expected to think for intoxicated patrons who can’t make rational decisions themselves in order to make Texas safer for all of us. The best way to reduce drunken driving accidents is to reduce the amount of drunk drivers.
In a third party claim, the injured party generally has no connection to either the dram shop or the intoxicated person. He could be someone hit by the drunk driver or a passenger. The third party may have a claim against both the drunk driver and the establishment that over-served him. In a third party claim, the jury will typically apportion fault to these two defendants. The percentage of fault allotted to each party correlates to how much of the damages each party will be responsible for. The jury will likely see a third party’s actions as less offensive than that of a drunken first party or the place that over-served him.
Obstacles – Exclusive Remedy
Unlike the defendants of practically every other type of personal injury or wrongful death litigation, drinking establishments benefit from the protection of having only one exclusive remedy against them after a drunken driving accident: a dram shop claim. In other types of accidents, responsible parties may have committed several various negligent actions.
For example, a man once hired our firm after his hand was mutilated in an on-the-job accident while working in a national steakhouse’s meat processing plant. He was taught to use a rigid metal hook to perform his daily function of scraping fat and skin off of various pieces of meat as they passed down a conveyor belt. However, the company’s training manual said this was to be performed with a flexible plastic hook, or malleability was essential in the tool to keep it from getting stuck in the machinery. The metal hook our client had been instructed to use got jammed in the apparatus, causing the mangling of our client’s hand. Our lawyers could sue for a variety of different negligent acts: hiring, training and supervision. On the other hand, only a dram shop claim serves as a remedy against a negligent drinking establishment after a drunken driving accident.
Obstacles – Punitive Damages
Courts often impose punitive damages against liable parties in other personal injury and wrongful death cases that exhibit a reckless disregard for duty known as gross negligence. Drinking establishments, on the other hand, face no punitive damages because they can’t be charged with gross negligence in dram shop cases.
Obstacles – Safe Harbor Defense
Unique from another other negligent parties that cause other types of personal injuries and wrongful deaths, drinking establishments enjoy the protection of a golden parachute against dram shop claims: the Safe Harbor Defense. To invoke this defense and prevent any dram shop case from succeeding against it, a drinking establishment must merely prove that it reasonably attempted to follow the regulations required in Texas for responsibly serving customers. A bar or restaurant must be able to prove that it met the following standards in order to use the Safe Harbor Defense:
- Required all employees be certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).
- Took actions to make sure all employees actually obtained TABC certification and the accompanying training in how to responsibly serve patrons and spot obvious signs of intoxication in patrons.
- A system must be established for dealing with intoxicated patrons, because some people will become drunk despite the best efforts of the bar, drinking before they go out, covertly bringing flasks into the bar or taking drinks offered by other customers. Most drinking establishments rely on the manager to step in inform the patron that service has been cut off and make sure he or she gets into a taxi after receiving sobering food and coffee.
Obstacles – Regular Insurance vs. Liquor Liability
The cost of liquor liability insurance can be extremely high, so many bars and restaurants choose only to carry premises liability insurance that protects against slip and fall accidents and other common mishaps. Most insurance companies will tell plaintiffs that they have no right to make dram shop claims against these general liability policies. However, the skillful and seasoned lawyers in our Dallas drunk driving accident law firm know the law often sees this situation differently if the argument is framed properly. Depending upon the details of your case, we may be able to help you with such claim, because we have secured numerous first party dram shop settlements from general liability insurance policies in other cases.
How Grossman Law Offices Wins Cases
In any case, the evidence begins to fade quickly, so you need a thorough investigation conducted by a skilled professional as soon as possible. If you wait to long in hiring an attorney, then the evidence you need may be lost. Witnesses can become hard to find or change their stories, damaged vehicles can be tampered with or demolished, videos get erased, wrecked cars can be demolished, and the physical details of the accident scene evolve very quickly – especially when the accident has happened on a busy roadway. The most important thing you can do to protect your ability to secure compensation is hiring a trustworthy lawyer as quickly as you can.
Our lawyers have investigated thousands of accident scenes in the 20 years we’ve been resolving drunken driving accidents, so we’ve perfected the ability to find the evidence essential to winning any dram shop case. We begin searching for evidence in the bar, questioning the staff and making an effort to locate and interview any patrons who witnessed the drunken driver on the night of the accident. We must discover exactly how drunk the driver appeared to be and whether or not the servers were performing their jobs responsibly. You’d be surprised how often we encounter servers who were brazenly ignoring their duties by drinking on the job.
Our In-House Investigation Team
To learn how much liquor was purchased by the drunk driver, we pull credit card or bank records, but that doesn’t prove how much liquor he or she actually consumed. The drunk driver could have received drinks from other people or purchased shots for friends. In two decades of investigating drunken driving accidents, we’ve adapted our techniques to fit the changing times. As cell phones have become increasingly more popular, we’ve learned that intoxicated people love to pester their friends with late night calls – so-called drunk dialing.
The people on the other ends of these calls are often able to testify to signs of intoxication like slurred speech and loud talking. In fact, it’s not unheard of for intoxicate people to declare just how drunk they are. Thus, we consult phone records and interview everyone who received a call from the drunk driver on the night of the accident. Smart phones have even made it possible for friends to videotape each other’s drunken binges. While these videos are intended for embarrassment purposes, they occasionally end as evidence in court. We know how to lock any evidence down and catalog it so it can be used in court later.
In one such case, we were hired by a drunk driver to handle his first party dram shop claim against a bar whose servers steadfastly claimed that he was not obviously drunk before the accident. Our client’s bank statement showed that he had purchased eight shots in two hours, but the bartender merely said he had been buying drinks for other patrons. We then turned to his phone records to see if we could find anyone who would say differently. To our pleasant surprise we found a friend with proof. One of the people our client called not only spoke with him, but also met him at the bar that night and filmed a video at 2.m. documenting our client’s obvious drunkenness. When the jury saw the video of our drunken client, the case was as good as settled in our client’s favor. We know how to find critical evidence in places that other lawyers don’t even know to search.
We Come Armed with Experts
In to turn a jury in a plaintiff’s favor, expert testimony is often necessary in addition to strong physical evidence. Grossman Law Offices keeps various experts as consultants: toxicologists, endocrinologists, economists, life care planners, and safe alcohol sales consultants. They can often be the difference in successful dram shop claims. For example, the loved ones of a motorcyclist who died in a drunken spill hired us to file a first party dram shop claim against the bar that over-served him. The motorcyclist’s BAC was only .11 percent when it was taken at the hospital, allowing the bar’s servers to claim he was not noticeably drunk while in the bar.
Most lawyers would have dropped the case as soon as they discovered his BAC, but our attorneys kept investigating. The paramedics who accompanied the man on his trip to the hospital informed us that they had given him extensive blood transfusions along the way. We then called upon our reliable endocrinologist who took into account the man’s body-weight and the amount of blood he received to calculate that his BAC was actually .19, making his level of intoxication blatantly obvious to anyone who bothered observing his behavior. Our expert tore up the golden parachute, allowing our clients to secure the compensation they deserved.
It’s not enough just to prove that a bar or restaurant was liable for an accident. In order to secure the compensation to which you are entitled, you also need the help of an attorney who can prove equity of the compensation you request. Medical bills and some other losses like property damage can be easily proven with the outstanding bills, but many other damages are subjective in nature and hard to prove. To prove up these debatable damages like the cost of future treatment, the effects of emotional distress and possible lost earning potential due to debilitating injuries, we bring in medical, psychological and economic experts.
We Can Help You
For 20 years and counting, the Dallas drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices have been successfully handling both first and third party dram shop claims, allowing hundreds of our clients to receive secured millions and millions of dollars in damages. If a drunk driving accident has taken a loved one from you or left you with painful and expensive injuries, we can help you obtain the fair and equitable compensation you deserve from the driver and/or the negligent drinking establishment – even if you were a drunk driver who caused the accident. Call us now at for a free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free) to find out how we can assist you. Our drunken driving specialists are happy to discuss the specific details of your case and explain any legal concepts you don’t understand. You must find a reputable lawyer now.