If You’ve Been the Victim of a Drunk Driving Accident in Houston Texas, Our Attorneys Are Here to Help
The city of Houston is a huge metropolitan area with pell-mell city planning and few cabs that require locals to drive pretty much everywhere. Thus, among people who enjoy the nightlife, drunk driving and drunk driving accidents unfortunately are both fairly common.
If you aren’t a lawyer and you suffer injuries or a loved one is killed in a drunk driving accident, then like most victims the laws may confuse you, making successful resolution of your claim impossible with assistance from a Houston drunk driving accident lawyer. The question of who should be liable for the harm caused by drunken drivers is older than the car itself, dating back to horse drawn carriages in English common law, and the debate still rages in modern day Houston.
Since adults should be held responsible for their own actions, it goes without saying that drunk drivers should be held accountable for the accidents, injuries and deaths they cause. Contention begins regarding the issue of the liability of bars and restaurants that over-serve patrons who then cause drunken driving accidents, injuries, or fatalities. In Texas, dram shop laws have been enacted, allowing injured victims or the loved ones of those wrongfully killed by drunk drivers to seek compensation from drinking establishments that negligently the driver past the point of obvious intoxication.
Even the Drunk Driver Can Sue
Even the drunk driver himself can seek compensation through a dram shop lawsuit. However, not all drinking establishments serve alcohol negligently, so a dram ship lawsuit is not possible for all victims of drunk drivers. In order to find out if the specific circumstances of your drunk driving wreck warrant a legitimate dram shop claim, call Grossman Law Offices for free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). Our drunk driving accident specialists will discuss your case and let you know where you stand.
For the past 24 years, Houston drunk driving accident lawyer Michael Grossman and his team of associates at Grossman Law Offices have been dealing with dram shop claims and finding successful solutions for our clients. With hundreds of cases under our belts, we’ve encountered practically every conceivable detail that might come up in drunk driving litigation, and we’ve learned how to protect our clients’ rights no matter how the wreck happened or who was to blame. We know you’re overwhelmed and confused, so we want to explain the bare essentials of dram shop laws, so you feel more comfortable with what you need to do.
If the negligent actions of a drunk driver or a bar or restaurant caused you to lose a loved one or your health, then we’d loved to wave a magic wand and make it all better again. However, magic wands only exist in children’s books and movies. All we can do for you in the real world is make sure all of the parties who contributed to the drunk driving accident that injured you or killed your loved one is held accountable for their actions.
What is a Dram Shop Case?
Since Texas has one of the highest rates of drunken driving in the nation, the Texas State Legislature sought limit the amount of drunk driving accidents by passing dram shop laws which force drinking establishments to serve alcohol to their patrons in a responsible manner. However, many people still think these laws are unjust, because they think drunk drivers are permitted to avoid responsibility for their actions. However, that view fails to consider the importance of dram shop laws.
The legal level of intoxication, established at .08 percent blood alcohol concentration throughout the country, is based upon scientific evidence that suggests normal physical and mental functionality and the ability to make reasonable decisions becomes impaired at that point. Thus, intoxicated people lack the ability to reasonably decide whether they are still capable of driving a car safely. Dram shop laws can reduce the amount of drunk drivers and subsequently protect the greater good by compelling a bar or restaurants servers to monitor their patrons’ behavior and discontinue service to anyone who appears to have reached the legal limit.
If you still question the fairness of dram shop laws, compare them to a dentist who uses anesthetic on his patients prior to surgery. This dentist is aware that the anesthesia used will leave the patience woozy and physically unable to drive a car, so he or she cannot allow the patient to drive home, or he or she incurs liability for any accidents and injuries caused by the driver. Shouldn’t drinking establishments carry the same responsibility for patrons impaired by the alcohol they served them?
The Dram Shop Act
While it may be legal to sell liquor, the interests of bars and restaurants that do are directly in conflict with the safety of the general public. Drinking establishments and their servers want to sell as many drinks as possible to increase profits and tips. However, more alcohol sales translate directly to more drunk drivers and greater peril for all Texans.
To counteract this problem, the Texas State Legislature passed dram shop laws, which forces bars and restaurants to serve alcohol responsibly or be responsible for a portion of damages caused by drunk drivers they over-serve.
Texas dram shop laws are not intended to permit drunk drivers pass off liability onto the bar that served them, nor are they intended to make consumption of alcohol illegal. Provided they’re not insolvent, drunk drivers are still responsible for the harm they cause, and Texans still drink as much alcohol as they want in privacy. The law just wants to make sure negligent drinking establishments that contribute to causing drunk driving accidents are also held responsible. A bar or restaurant shouldn’t even be serving a person who is obviously intoxicated – not even if he or she lives upstairs – because it’s not legal to even be in public with a BAC of .08 percent or greater.
Elements of a Dram Shop Case
Just like proving any wrongful death or personal injury claim, dram shop claims must meet four standards to be successful:
- Duty – Depending upon the specific details of the situation and the interaction of the parties involved, all people owe each other the duty to reasonably provide for each other’s safety. Drivers owe each other the duty of driving while sober, and bars and restaurants must adhere to the guidelines for responsible service of alcohol.
- Breach – Someone neglected the required duty in a given situation. In drunk driving accidents, breaches occur when the driver operates a car while drunk or a drinking establishment serves a patron past the point of blatant intoxication and before permitting him or her to drive.
- Causation – The wreck and ensuing injuries to the victim, also referred to as the plaintiff, were caused by the breach of duty. This standard is simple, intoxication of the driver and/or negligent service by the drinking establishment caused the wreck.
- Damages – The accident caused the plaintiff to suffer harm and monetary loss.
Resolutions for Injuries Suffered in Drunken Driving Accidents
Whether or not a dram shop claim is filed, people injured and the loved ones of those killed by drunk drivers can seek essentially the same damages as the victims of other types of accidents.
People injured in drunk driving accidents in Houston can seek compensation for:
- Medical bills both past and those anticipated in the future
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Lost wages due to work missed while seeking treatment or recuperating in the hospital
- Lost future earning potential as a result of any lifelong disabilities
Resolutions for Wrongful Death
In fatal drunk driving accidents, the surviving loved ones can pursue compensation for both wrongful death damages and survival damages, mirroring claims for other types of fatal accidents. Wrongful death damages can be sought by spouses, children, parents, and in some cases siblings and are intended to allow grieving loved ones to be compensated for their personal losses. Wrongful death damages may include compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Any medical expenses the victim incurred before death
- Emotional and mental distress
- Loss of monetary support the victim provided the family
- Absence of the unique familial love and consortium only the deceased could give
Survival Damages Recoverable
Survival damages, conversely, can only be sought by the closest living relative of the deceased and are designed to allow this person to pursue the damages the victim could have sought with a lawsuit had he or she survived the accident. This exclusive right is inherited from spouse to children to parents and finally to siblings. Survival damages compensation may include:
- Anticipated medical expenses the victim would have incurred during further treatment
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering experienced by the victim during the wreck
- Emotional and mental trauma that would have been caused by rehab
- Lost wages during recuperation and the stay in the hospital
- Lost future earning potential as a result of crippling injuries
- Loss of household services
- Loss of enjoyment of life
According to Texas law, drunk driving accidents don’t just suddenly materialize out of thin are but are a result of a series of events that begins when the driver goes out for the night. The series of events goes on when he or she consumes the first alcoholic beverage, and the person continues to drink until he or she surpassed the legal limit. The series comes to an end when the drunk driver attempts to drive and causes a wreck.
A bar or restaurant doesn’t even need to actually be involved in an accident to be a proximate cause of it. To comprehend proximate cause, contemplate an accident that’s caused when a dog darts into traffic, forcing one motorist to swerve to avoid hitting it and ram into another car. While the dog avoids any harm, it’s still the proximate cause of the accident and any harm done.
You must be able to convince the jury that the drinking establishment’s servers should have noticed blatant indicators of drunkenness in the patron and stopped service before he or she drove in order to demonstrate that a bar or restaurant is liable for harm caused by the drunk driver. Success with dram shop claims depends greatly on finding an experienced Houston drunk driving accident lawyer because alcohol-serving businesses know how to refute these allegations. In the state of Texas, drinking establishments are required to attempt two methods for detecting customers have become legally intoxicated:
- Direct evidence: Looking for blatant, external physical signs of drunkenness, including: falling down, passing out, slurring speech, excessive loud, talking, staring at lights, behaving aggressively, or walking, sitting or standing unsteadily.
- Circumstantial evidence: People who drink all of the time that they can often appear sober when in fact very drunk. To detect these intoxicated customers, drinking establishments must turn to circumstantial evidence. Some bars use different colored glasses or collect coasters to track the number of drinks consumed. However, modern point-of-sale systems make keeping track of patrons’ drunkenness easy. These systems keep track of when the tab was started and exactly the number of drinks consumed. A server who is armed with that knowledge and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission training can quickly estimate a patron’s level of intoxication.
The Accident Must Be Foreseeable
In reality, most drunken driving accidents are caused by people who are extremely drunk and not just slightly over the legal limit, so the drunken perpetrators could easily have been detected and stopped by the bars that served them.
Intoxication is a cause-in-fact for every drunken driving accident according to the laws of any state in America. The process of proving a drunken driving accident was foreseeable by the servers at a drinking establishment based on the driver’s obvious intoxication is much more complicated. Only those accidents that are foreseeable are actionable in this instance, and not every drunken driving wreck is foreseeable for drinking establishments. If a drunken patron walks out of a club, and another driver crashes into a telephone pole, which crushes and kills the man, then the drinking establishment had no way of foreseeing that chain of events.
To illustrate this further, we can look at an old wrongful death involving a fatal accident that began with a man standing on a crowded subway platform and waiting for a train. The man appeared normal but was hiding a large bag of fireworks under his coat. Due to the overcrowded platform, the jostling people nudged the man and dropped the fireworks onto the electrified third rail, igniting them immediately. The explosion knocked over a pole, which then fatally crushed a young girl. The girl’s family responded with a lawsuit against the subway company, based on the lack of safety on the platform. However, the claim failed because the subway company had no reasonable expectation to foresee that one of its passengers might be hiding explosives. If the crowded conditions had caused the girl to be knocked off the platform, then the situation might have been different.
Cases We’ve Handled
Our Houston drunk driving accident lawyers have tried hundreds of these cases and mastered the ability to convince juries of the foreseeability of accident. We’ve handled dram shop claims against some of the largest and most prominent establishments in Texas, including:
- Wahoo Saloon
- The Londoner
- The Jailhouse Saloon in Spring, TX
- The Oasis at Lake Travis
- The Beach Hut
- Cabaret East
- Anderson Mill Tavern
- Fat Daddy’s
- The Wild Turkey
- Plucker’s Wing Bar
- John’s Place Pub
First Party Claims
Essentially, there are two categories of dram shop claims: first party claims and third party claims. First party claims are when drunken drivers suffer injuries in accidents and then pursue restitution from the bar or restaurant where they had been drinking, while third party claims occur when drunk drivers injure or kill innocent people who then seek compensation from the negligent bar or restaurant that over-served the motorist.
Comparative liability decides the success or failure of a first party dram shop claim. In the state of Texas, the drinking establishment must be more than 50 percent at fault for a wreck for the plaintiff to be able to win a first party dram shop claim. Comparative liability can be perfectly summarized by an incident in which two drivers get into an accident while simultaneously entering the same lane. Both drivers are at least partially at fault for this type of accident, but one of them is invariably less at fault than the other. One had to signal first, and in many cases comparative liability in such a case is easy to assess because one of the drivers didn’t turn on his or her blinker at all.
First party dram shop claims, on the other hand, make proving comparative liability and winning the case much more trying for the plaintiffs. Therefore, many attorneys refuse to take on first party dram shop cases, and very few lawyers are capable of winning them. At Grossman Law Offices, we don’t shy away from first party dram shop claims because our experienced Dallas drunk driving accident lawyers know they can win them. We have repeatedly prevailed in first party dram shop claims involving contested comparative liability issues in the past because we know how to prove bars and restaurants were responsible for their injuries.
Third Party Claims
When innocent people suffer injuries in drunk driving accidents and then pursue restitution from the drinking establishment that over-served the driver, that’s a third party dram shop claim. Once again, these dram shop laws do not let drunk drivers escape accountability – they just make sure all the parties who cause an accident pay for what they have done. Occasionally, drunk drivers are insolvent, and dram shops laws can permit the victim to still secure compensation when the drunken driver can’t afford to pay for damages. We want you to comprehend the importance of dram shop laws. Responsible bartenders and servers must act reasonably for drunken patrons who aren’t capable of making these decisions themselves, so that the public safety can be protected. By limiting how drunk patrons get, bars and restaurants can help curtail drunk driving accidents.
In a third party claim, the injured party generally has no connection to either the intoxicated person or the dram shop. It could be someone hit by the drunk driver or a passenger in his car. The third party will than have a claim against both the inebriated person and the licensed establishment that over-served him. In a third party claim, the jury will typically apportion fault between these two defendants. The percentage of fault allotted to each party correlates to how much each party is responsible for in damages. The jury will likely see a third party’s actions as less offensive, as he was neither drunk nor over-serving a drunk person.
Difficulties: Exclusive Remedy
Drinking establishments benefit from the protection of having only one exclusive remedy against their negligence – dram shop laws’ whereas, defendants in other types of personal injury and wrongful death litigation can be sued for various negligent actions.
For example, a man once hired our firm to represent him after severely injuring his hand and arm while working in a national steakhouse chain’s meat processing plant. The company’s training manual specifically instructed that he was supposed to use a flexible plastic hook to remove fat and skin from steaks as they passed down a conveyor belt. However, our client had been trained to use an unbendable metal hook for this purpose. The inflexible structure of the metal hook got stuck in the apparatus causing our client’s hand to be skinned as if it was piece of meat. We had several options for pursuing compensation from the steakhouse chain: negligent hiring, training or supervision. On the other hand, a negligent bar or restaurant faces only one exclusive remedy after a drunk driving accident: dram shop laws.
Difficulties: Punitive Damages
Gross negligence that causes personal injuries or wrongful deaths in other types of accidents can be susceptible to punitive damages. However, no punitive damages can be enforced on bars and restaurants in dram shop cases because they can’t be grossly negligent.
Difficulties: Safe Harbor Defense
Drinking establishments enjoy the protection of the Safe Harbor Defense, a golden parachute shielding them against dram shop claims. No other defendants in other personal injury or wrongful death claims are afforded such staunch protection. If a bar or restaurant can show that it reasonably attempted to follow the regulations required in Texas for responsibly serving customers, then it cannot be successfully sued with a dram shop claim. To used the Safe Harbor Defense, a drinking establishment must be able to prove that it:
- Required all employees to be certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).
- Made sure that all employees actually obtained the mandated TABC certification and accompanying training on how to responsibly serve alcohol and detect obvious signs of drunkenness in customers.
- When someone does manage to become intoxicated despite the best efforts of the drinking establishment, it must have a system in place to deal with that patron. People will often go to great lengths to get drunk, drinking before they go out, bringing a hidden flask into a bar, or downing shots from other patrons. To deal with customers who have obviously reached the legal limit, many bars call on the manager to intervene, stop service, and ensure the patron gets into a cab.
Difficulties: Regular Insurance vs. Liquor Liability
The cost of liquor liability insurance can be extraordinary; thus, bars and restaurants often opt to only subscribe to premises liability insurance coverage, which protects against slip and fall accidents or other common mishaps. Most insurance companies will claim that their premises liability policy does not encompass dram shop claims. However, they’re only claiming that to avoid paying people who try to file claims against them. Our experienced Houston drunk driving accident lawyers know that a properly framed argument can result in a successful dram shop claim against a general liability process. We have helped other injured victims obtain insurance settlements from premises liability policies in numerous first party dram shop claims, and depending upon the details of your case, we may be able to help you with a similar claim.
How Grossman Law Offices Wins Cases
It’s important that you understand the critical necessity for acting quickly to find a lawyer. In any accident case, the evidence needed to win disappears extremely fast, so you need a diligent investigation conducted by a skilled professional. Totaled cars and be demolished, witnesses can be difficult to locate or forget what they saw, videos get erased, and the scene of the wreck on a busy roadway changes with alarming speed.
Our Houston drunk driving accident lawyers have been investigating accident scenes for two decades, so we’ve mastered the ability to uncover the necessary evidence to win dram shop cases. We start our investigation at the bar, questioning the staff to evaluate their behavior and that of the drunk driver, as well as, to locate any other customers who might be able to shed light on the situation. We need to discover whether or not the servers did their job in responsibly serving the drunk driver and trying to determine if he or she was obviously drunk. Next, we access credit card receipts to figure out how much alcohol the drunk driver bought. Unfortunately, that’s only circumstantial evidence because it doesn’t prove how much alcohol the drunk driver consumed – he or she could have bought drinks for other patrons.
We Dig Deeper
In the time we’ve been handling drunken driving accident litigation, life in America has changed and so has the available evidence in these cases. Cell phones have become increasingly popular, and we’ve learned that intoxicated people love to call their friends. Often times, the people on the other end of these calls can provide valuable evidence regarding the level of intoxication in the driver, like loud talking, slurred speech and even excited declarations of their level of intoxication (“I’m so wasted!”).
Thus, we pull phone records and contact everyone the driver called on the night of the wreck. We’ve even encountered friends of the drunk driver who use their phones to document drunken binges with video. While these friends intend to embarrass the drunk driver on the internet, they often provide us with critical evidence. When we find evidence, we catalog it and lock it down to be admissible in court.
Phones & Videos
To illustrate how important a thorough investigation can be to success in a dram shop case, let’s examine an incident in which a drunk driver once hired our firm to represent him in a first party dram shop claim. The bar in this case refuted its negligence, suggesting that our client was not obviously intoxicated. According to credit card records, our client bought eight shots in two hours, but the bar’s servers claimed that he was purchasing rounds for other patrons.
In order to find our own proof to counteract this claim, we accessed his phone records and began contacting everyone he phoned that night. We located a friend who had gone out to meet the drunk driver that night and had actually shot video at 2 a.m. of his friend, documenting just how drunk the man was before getting behind the wheel. The video made it quite clear he was obviously drunk and the servers in the bar should have detected his intoxication. When other lawyers might end up finding only the most obvious evidence, Grossman Law Offices digs deeper.
We Come Armed with Experts
To sway a jury in the plaintiff’s favor, expert testimony is often necessary in addition to strong physical evidence. Our lawyers have worked with a stable of various experts: endocrinologists, toxicologists, economists, life care planners, and safe alcohol sales consultants. In one case, a family hired our firm to represent them in a first party dram shop claim after their loved one died in a motorcycle accident riding home from a bar. The man’s BAC when he arrived at the hospital was only .11 percent, so the bar could claim he was not drunk enough to make his intoxication readily identifiable.
Confronted with this evidence, most law firms would have immediately dropped the case. Our lawyers knew to continue investigating, and we discovered upon questioning the paramedics that they gave the man extensive blood transfusions on the way to the hospital. We turned to the trusted endocrinologist we use an expert witness, he was able to determine that the man’s actual BAC was really .19 percent when the wreck occurred based upon the amount of blood he received. Such a high BAC should have made the motorcyclist obviously drunk to servers who were responsibly serving him, and the testimony of our expert destroyed the golden parachute.
It’s not enough to prove the liability of a bar or restaurant to secure the compensation you deserve. Additionally, plaintiffs must be able to prove the monetary value of the harm they’ve incurred. While some damages, like medical expenses, can be easily proven up with the bills, many other damages call for expert testimony because they are subjective in nature. Thus, to convince a jury of the validity of requested damages, we turn to medical experts to testify to the cost of possible future complications and ongoing rehabilitation, psychologists to testify to the existence and value of emotional and mental trauma and economists who can attest to the monetary impact of reduced future earnings due to death or life-long debilities.
We Can Help You
For the past 24 years, the Houston drunk driving accident lawyers at Grossman Law have been successfully litigating both first and third party dram shop claims, allowing our clients to obtain millions and millions of dollars and hold liable parties responsible for the harm they’ve done. In just the same manner, if a drunk driver has taken a loved one from you or left you with painful and expensive injuries, then we can make sure you receive fair and equitable restitution to which you are entitled. Even if you caused an accident while drunk, we can often help you prevail with a first party dram shop claim. Call us immediately to discover how we can be of assistance. We’re happy to offer a free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). We can discuss the specific circumstances of your case, explain any legal principles you don’t comprehend, and tell you how we can help. You must act now to find a lawyer you can trust.