Our Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help if You’ve Been Hurt by a Drunk Driver in Midland or Odessa
With its economic history steeped in the rough and tumble oil industry, it should come as no surprise that many people in Midland and Odessa like to enjoy a few alcoholic beverages from time to time.
However, the area has very few cabs to speak of, so those people who drink often end up driving, as well, causing the area to have an uncommonly high rate of drunken driving accidents for its size. If you lack legal experience and have been injured or lost a loved one in a drunken driving accident, then you will likely be confused and stymied by the legal process. In order to receive the compensation you deserve for your loss or injury, you will need the guidance of a skilled and experienced attorney from a reputable and successful Midland drunk driving accident law firm. The question of who should be held financially accountable for the harm caused by drunken driving accidents has been argued since the time of the horse and buggy, and it’s still a point of contention for many people today in Texas.
Since adults should be responsible for the consequences of their actions, there’s very little argument against the fact that drunken drivers should be held responsible for the negative impact of the accidents they cause. The debate begins regarding whether a bar, restaurant or other alcohol-serving business should also be held liable for the actions of drivers whom they serve past the point of legal intoxication. Despite the objections of some opponents, the answer in the state of Texas, is yes they should. The laws in Texas contain a subset called dram shop laws that permit the victims of drunk drivers and the families of drunken driving fatalities to seek compensation from the bar or restaurant that negligently over-served the drunk driver, in addition to pursuing damage from the drunk driver, him or herself. These laws even provide protection to drunk drivers, giving them the ability in certain circumstances to sue the drinking establishment for damages. Making the matter confusing, not every drunken driving accident can sustain a legitimate dram shop lawsuit because not all drinking establishments serve their customers negligently. We know what you’re thinking – how do you know if the details of your accident give you grounds for an actionable dram shop claim? You call Grossman Law Offices for free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). Once we’ve discussed the unique circumstances of your accident, our drunken driving accident specialists can help you decide how to proceed with your case.
For the past 20 years, Michael Grossman and his associates at the Midland drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices have been specializing in drunk driving accident cases, so we know how protect your rights and help you obtain the just restitution you deserve for the injuries or loss you have suffered. We know you’re probably confused as to what your options are and how to move forward, so want to explain the basics of dram shop law to put you at ease before undertaking the legal process to seek compensation.
We’ve love to be able to hit the reset button and return your life to the way it was before you were injured or lost a family member in a drunk driving accident. Sadly, life doesn’t afford the opportunities of video games, and all our real-world Midland drunk driving accident law firm can offer you is the chance to make the responsible parties pay for what the harm they have done to you and your family.
What is a Dram Shop Case?
Drunken driving accidents are a costly and life-threatening problem throughout the United States, but the state of Texas sadly boasts one of the highest rates of drunken driving wrecks in the nation. To curb this mounting problem, the Texas State Legislature has passed dram shop laws. The theory is that the state can reduce the amount of drunken driving accidents by holding bars and restaurants accountable for responsibly serving their customers – intoxicated customers means fewer drunk drivers, causing fewer accidents. Despite the beneficial intent of these laws, many people still argue that dram shop laws are unjust, basing their opinion on the faulty assumption that these laws permit drunk drivers to pass off the monetary accountability for what they’ve done onto the bars that served them. This prejudiced outlook ignores the importance of creating a safer driving environment for the general public. There’s a reason why Texas and every state in the union has set the legal level of intoxication at .08 percent – that’s when a person’s decision-making and normal physical and mental abilities begin to be negatively affected by alcohol consumption. In other words, a person who is legally inebriated lacks the ability to correctly decide whether or not he or she can drive a car safely. Dram shop laws take this into consideration and provide for the public safety by compelling the servers in bars and restaurants to make decisions for drunk drivers who are incapable of making them on their own.
To illustrate this idea, let’s look at the analogy of a dentist who gives anesthesia to patients before performing oral surgery. This anesthesia will impair the patient’s ability to drive after the operation, and the dentist is well aware of this fact. Thus, the dentist is responsible for making sure the patient has an alternative way home after the procedure. Should a patient under the influence of anesthesia get in an accident, then the dentist would be and should be held financially responsible for any harm done. Arguably, the dentist is more liable for such an accident than the driver. The same holds true for a drinking establishment that over-serves a patron, knowing the detrimental effect alcohol can have on the ability to drive.
Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with licensed bars and restaurants selling alcohol, but their interests still conflict directly with those of society as a whole. In order to make more money, drinking establishments must sell more drinks, and servers are encouraged to assist in this process because more expensive tabs translates to bigger tips. However, increased liquor sales also statistically translate to more intoxicated patrons, more drunk drivers, and more people injured and killed in drunken driving accidents. By holding drinking establishments financially accountable for the harm caused in drunken driving accidents, dram shop laws give bars and restaurants some incentive to serve responsibly and halt service to obviously intoxicated patrons before they get behind the wheel. Through the use of dram shop laws the negative effects of drunken driving have been curtailed, and Texas has become a safer place to drive.
Don’t jump to the wrong conclusion – dram shop laws do not transfer liability from the drunk driver to the bar or restaurant that served him or her. All dram shop lawsuits should go hand-in-hand with a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the drunk driver. The purpose of dram shop laws is to make sure ALL the liable parties are held accountable for their negligence. Furthermore, dram shop laws are not intended to re-institute prohibition – there’s nothing wrong with a Texan drinking as much as he or she wants in private. Conversely, public intoxication is illegal, so a drinking establishment is cannot serve a customer who is obviously inebriated. If they do so, then drinking establishments are breaking the law, and they’re liable for their own negligence in causing harm to anyone who gets into an accident with the drunk driver they over-served.
Elements of a Dram Shop Case
Just as is the case with other types of accidents that lead to wrongful death or personal injury claims, successful dram shop claims must meet four standards:
- Duty – No matter what the situation, all people have the duty to account for the safety of others with reasonable care. What that reasonable care entails depends upon the particular interaction and the parties involved. In terms of drunken driving accidents, drivers have the duty of operating their vehicles while sober, and drinking establishments must follow state guidelines for serving their customers responsibly.
- Breach – The required duty was neglected. Breaches in drunken driving accidents occur when someone gets behind the wheel while intoxicated or when bars and restaurants continue serving someone who is blatantly inebriated.
- Causation – The accident was caused by the breach of duty. In any drunken driving accident, the intoxication of the driver is a cause in fact, but proving that negligent service by a drinking establishment caused the accident can be more challenging.
- Damages – The accident caused the victim, also known as the plaintiff, to suffer financial losses and/or injuries.
Resolutions for Injuries Suffered in Drunken Driving Accidents
Whether pursuing compensation from a drunken driver or a negligent drinking establishment, victims have the right to receive the same types of damages following a drunk driving accident as any other personal injury or wrongful death claim.
People injured by drunk drivers can seek compensation for:
- Past and future medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Lost wages due to work missed while in the hospital or seeking further medical treatment and rehabilitation
- Lost future earning potential due to lifelong debilitating injuries
The surviving loved ones of people killed in fatal drunken driving wrecks can seek both wrongful death damages and survival damages – just the same as in any other fatal mishap. Wrongful death damages are intended to compensate the immediate family members for the losses they’ve incurred as a result of the death of their loved one and may be pursued by spouses, children, parents, and in some cases siblings. Compensation for wrongful death damages may include:
- Funeral expenses
- Medical expenses charged to the deceased before he or she perished
- Loss of monetary support the victim provided the family
- Loss of the unique consortium and familial love provided by the victim
- Emotional and mental distress
On the other hand, survival damages may only be pursued by the victim’s closing living family member. Survival damages makes the closest living relative the proxy for the deceased, giving him or her the right to seek the compensation for which the victim could have sued had he or she survived the accident. This right passes down from spouse to children to parents and finally to siblings and may include compensation for:
- The cost of medical treatment the victim likely would have needed in the future
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering experienced by the victim during the wreck
- Emotional and mental distress resulting from injuries and rehabilitation
- Lost wages during the victim’s anticipated hospital stay and subsequent treatment and rehab
- Lost earning capacity in the future caused by any crippling lifelong disabilities
Drunken driving accidents don’t just randomly happen but are the result of a series of events, beginning when someone innocently drives away from his or her home for a night on the town. Then, the series of events begins to turn south, as the driver consumes his or her first alcoholic beverage of the night. The series of events then begins to spiral out of control as the driver drinks more and more alcohol before eventually becoming intoxicated. Finally, the unfortunate series of events comes crashing to a halt when the now drunk driver gets back into his or car and caused a drunken driving accident.
Just like other types of accidents, bars and restaurants don’t have to be physically engaged in a drunken driving wreck to be legally considered a proximate cause of it. So that you can comprehend the concept of proximate cause, let’s look at another accident scenario. A jogger runs out into a busy street directly in front of an oncoming car, forcing the driver to swerve out of the way only to smash into another car. The jogger keeps on trucking down the road without being touched, but the jogger is still the proximate cause of the accidents and the injuries suffered by the passengers and drivers both vehicles that collided in the accident.
For a bar or restaurant to be considered the proximate cause of a drunken driving accident, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the drinking establishment should have cut off service after detecting obvious signs of intoxication in the customer before he or she became a drunken driver. Businesses that serve alcohol know how to deflect these accusation, so you need the assistance of an experienced attorney from a Midland drunk driving accident law firm to stand the best chance of securing the just restitution you deserve in a dram shop claim. In order to avoid liability, bars and restaurants must try to spot drunken customers through two methods:
- Direct evidence – Spotting blatant external physical signs of drunkenness by diligently observing the behavior of patrons. Such signs of drunkenness can include: falling down, falling asleep, slurring speech, talking loudly, staring lights, behaving aggressively, or wobbling while standing, sitting or walking.
- Circumstantial evidence – Some drinkers can conceal the obvious signs of intoxication because they’re habitual drinkers capable of consuming large amounts of alcohol. Therefore, bars and restaurants must also use circumstantial evidence to detect drunks, like counting coasters or serving drinks in different colored glasses, denoting the amount of drinks sold. The modern point-of-sale ordering system provides the best means, however, for tracking the amount of drinks served to a customer. Whenever a server orders a drink for a customer on one of these systems, it tells him or her when the tab was started and how many drinks have been ordered. Knowing the amount of drinks that someone has ordered in a given amount of time, a responsible server can quickly approximate how intoxicated that person has become using the lessons learned in mandatory Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission training.
Generally, serious drunken driving accidents that result in severe injuries, property damage and death are not caused by drivers who have had one or two drinks too many but by those who are wasted. In other words, dangerous drunk drivers are obvious intoxicated patrons that could have been easily stopped before they drove by responsible servers in bars or restaurants.
No matter what state you are driving in within this country, intoxication is considered a cause in fact for every drunken driving wreck. However, plaintiffs must be able to prove that a drunken driving accident was foreseeable due to a driver’s obvious intoxication in order for a drinking establishment to be ruled the proximate cause of a drunk driving accident. Bars and restaurants are not held accountable for foreseeing all accidents involving their patrons, so successfully proving foreseeability can be difficult.
To understand the concept of foreseeability, let’s examine an old unsuccessful wrongful death case against a subway company. The case began when a man entered a bustling subway platform with a large sack full of fireworks hidden beneath his coat. As people fought for position on the platform, the man was bumped and spilled his cache of incendiaries onto the electrified third rail of the tracks where they instantly exploded, toppling a large pole onto a young girl and killing her on the spot. Citing the lack of safety on the crowded platform, the girl’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the subway company. Unfortunately, their suit failed because the court ruled that the subway company had no way of being able to foresee the man’s clandestine fireworks. The loved ones’ claim would have likely been successful, on the contrary, if the girl had fallen onto the third rail because that’s a foreseeable hazard of a crowded subway platform.
Through the experience of hundreds of dram shop claims, our attorneys at the Midland drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices know how to convince a jury that drinking establishments should have been able to foresee drunken driving accidents.
First Party Claims
There are essentially two types of dram shop claims: first party claims and third party claims. First party claims are filed by drunk drivers who injure themselves in drunken driving wrecks and then seek restitution for the harm done to them from the drinking establishment that over-served them. Third party claims are filed by the innocent victims of drunk drivers who seek damages from the bar or restaurant that negligently over-served the drunk driver.
Determining who is most at fault for a drunken driving accident, known as comparative liability decides the success or failure of any first party dram shop claim. In Texas, drinking establishments must be more than 50 percent at fault for a drunken driving accident to be found liable in a first party dram shop claim. To better understand the concept of comparative liability, let’s think about an accident that occurs when two people simultaneously change into the same lane, colliding cars. While both drivers in such a wreck are partially to blame for the collision, one is invariably more at fault than the other because one of them likely signaled first. Comparing liability in many accidents of this type is fairly easy because one of the drivers didn’t bother turning on his or her signal before changing lanes.
In first party draw shop claims, on the contrary, comparative liability can rarely be assessed so easily in the plaintiffs. In fact, it’s so challenging that many attorneys don’t take on first party dram shop claims at all, and few have what it takes to be successful with them. Our trial-tested and crafty attorneys at the Midland drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices eagerly take on first party dram shop claims, and we’ve got enough success under our belts to know how to prevail with them regardless of the circumstances. We’ve repeatedly been able to tilt comparative liability against drinking establishments to help our clients secure the just restitution they deserve. We’re confident that we’ll be able to help you too.
Third Party Claims
To reiterate, third party dram claims were not created so that drunk drivers can avoid financial accountability for the harm they caused but rather to make sure all negligent parties are held responsible for drunken driving accidents. Moreover, in some cases, third party dram shop claims can be the only way a person injured in a drunken driving accident can avoid having to pay for the harm done to him or her by his or herself. When drunken drivers are insolvent and unable to pay damages, the only option for an injured victim to secure the compensation he or she deserves is from the drinking establishment through a dram shop lawsuit. Once you’ve read all of these facts, there’s no way a rational person can still be against dram shop laws. Since intoxicated people cannot make reasonable decisions for themselves, one of the most effective ways to protect the public safety is for so responsible bars and restaurants to do the thinking for them. Drinking establishments can greatly limit the amount of drunk drivers and subsequently the amount of accidents they cause by stopping service before customers become drunk.
Hurdles: Exclusive Remedy
In contrast to other types of personal injury or wrongful death accidents, which may be resolved through various causes of action, dram shop laws are the exclusive remedy against negligent bars and restaurants following drunken driving accidents.
For example, our firm represented a man in an on-the-job personal injury lawsuit after his hand was mutilated while he was working in a national steakhouse chain’s meat packing plant. The man was hired to remove fat and grizzle from steaks as the passed down an assembly line, and he was trained to do so using a rigid metal hook. Conversely, the company’s employee training manual required that this task be performed with a malleable plastic hook in order to avoid the possibility that the hook gets stuck in the machinery. The metal hook, on the other hand, got jammed in the conveyor belt, and hour client’s hand was severely mangled by the machinery. This accident left our attorneys with several different options for pursuing compensation from the steakhouse chain: negligent hiring, training and supervision. After a drunken driving accident, however, a dram shop claim is the only remedy against a negligent bar or restaurant.
Hurdles: Punitive Damages
Defendants who commit a reckless disregard for the other’s safety, known as gross negligence, may be subject to punitive damages in other types of accidents. In dram shop cases, drinking establishments face no punitive damages because they cannot be grossly negligent.
Hurdles: Safe Harbor Defense
To protect against dram shop claims, drinking establishments have the benefit of a golden parachute called the Safe Harbor Defense. No other defendants in personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits enjoy such umbrage. If a drinking establishment can prove that at least tried to follow Texas’ guidelines for responsibly serving patrons, then they are immune to any and all dram shop claims. To receive the protection of the Safe Harbor Defense, drinking establishments must demonstrate that they:
- Mandated all employees must receive certification from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC)
- Made certain all employees actually received this TABC certification and requisite training in serving patrons responsibly and detecting signs of obvious inebriation in them.
- A protocol must be in place to handle anyone who has become intoxicated despite the best efforts of the drinking establishment. Many people make it hard on the drinking establishment by drinking before they go out, hiding flasks when the come into bars, or drinking shots provided by other patrons. In most cases, bars will deal with drunk patrons by calling upon the manager to step in and cut off service, provide the patron with some coffee or food to sober him or her up and then make sure he or she gets into a cab to go home.
Hurdles: Regular Insurance vs. Liquor Liability
The cost of liquor liability insurance can be unaffordable for many drinking establishments, so they often subscribe strictly to premises liability insurance that protects against slipping and falling, burns from spilled hot liquids, and other common accidents. Most insurance claim these policies don’t cover dram shop claims. Not surprisingly, the insurance providers are trying to take advantage of the ignorance of victims when they make this claim, and the laws of Texas may view the situation differently, depending upon how the argument to the contrary is framed. In other first party dram shop claims against general liability policies, our crafty attorneys at the Midland drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices have helped our clients secure insurance settlements, and we may be able to help you with a similar claim, depending upon the unique details of your case.
How Grossman Law Offices Wins Cases
Right now, the success of your case likely depends on finding a trustworthy lawyer as soon as you can. In any accident, especially those on busy roadways, evidence begins to fade away quickly – wrecked cars are demolished, witnesses forget what they saw or become difficult to find, videos are erased, and the physical details of the accident scene change. Thus, it’s critically important that you have a skilled professional conduct a thorough investigation before the evidence needed to prove your case is gone.
The Midland drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices has spent the last 20 years perfecting our lawyers’ investigative skills with hundreds of accident cases, so we know how to find the evidence needed to win your case. We begin in the bar where the accident began, questioning any staff and patrons who witnessed the night of the drunken driving accident. We must determine whether or not the drunk driver was obviously intoxicated and whether or not the staff was behaving responsibly or brazenly shirking their duties by drinking on the job. Next, we pull credit card and bank records to find out how many drinks were purchased and likely consumed by the drunk driver in the drinking establishment. However, that evidence proves nothing, since the drunk driver could have received drinks from other patrons or bought drinks for friends. In two decades of investigating accident scenes, we’ve learned to change our investigative techniques with the changing times. As cell phones have become more popular so has the tendency of intoxicated people to call their friends – so-called drunk dialing. The people on the other end of these calls often provide valuable evidence in first party dram shop claims, testifying to obvious signs of intoxication like slurred speech or outright admittance of drunkenness (“I’m so wasted”). Thus, we access phone records and question anyone the drunk driver called on the night of the accident. A few times, we’ve even found video evidence from friends who used their smart phones to film videos of their buddy’s drunken antics. While intended for Vimeo or YouTube, these videos can end up as evidence in court. Our investigators know how to find evidence where other attorneys don’t even know where to look. We’ve been doing this so long that we know to lock down and catalog any evidence we find.
One time, we were hired to handle a first dram shop case for a drunk driver, and the servers in the bar had claimed he was not obviously drunk before leaving the establishment. While his debit card records revealed he had purchased eight shots in two hours, the bartender claimed he had been buying rounds for friends. So, we turned to his phone records and were able to find a friend who not only talked to him but also met him at the bar and filmed a video at closing time, documenting just how intoxicated his friend was. Anyone viewing the film had to admit the drunk driver was obviously drunk.
We Come Armed with Experts
Sometimes, we must turn to expert testimony because there’s not enough physical evidence to convince a jury of a plaintiff’s right to damages. Our Midland drunk driving accident law firm maintains consulting relationships with wide variety of experts: life care planners, safe alcohol sales consultants economists, toxicologists, and endocrinologists. Often times, their testimony can be critical to success. For example, the family of a man killed in a drunken motorcycle spill once hired us to handle their first party wrongful death dram shop claim against the bar that over-served their loved one. When he arrived at the hospital before dying, the man’s BAC was just .11 percent – only slightly over the legal limit and low enough to allow the bar to claim he was not obviously drunk before leaving the premises. Most other attorneys would have dropped the case upon learning of the man’s BAC, but our attorneys kept on investigating. After questioning the emergency medical technicians who treated the man on his CareFlite to the hospital, we learned that they gave him extensive blood transfusions. So, we called in the endocrinologist we use as an expert witness. He took the amount of blood the man received, factored in his body weight and determined his actual BAC at the time of the accident was .19 percent. That level of drunkenness should have made his intoxication blatantly obvious to any responsible server, so our expert’s testimony shredded the bar’s golden parachute, allowing the man’s family to secure the compensation they deserved.
Establishing the liability of a bar or restaurant in a dram shop claim isn’t enough to get the fair restitution to which you are entitled. Additionally, you must also prove the fair and adequate value of the damages you’ve requested. Some damages like medical expenses and property damage can be easily established from the physical bills you’ve received, but other forms of compensation like the cost of future treatment, lost earning potential and the value of pain and suffering are debatable and require expert testimony to convince a jury. So, we depend upon the testimony of one of our reliable medical, psychological or economic experts.
We Can Help You
Going on 24 years now, the Midland drunk driving accident law firm of Grossman Law Offices has been successfully resolving first and third party dram shop claims, and we’ve helped hundreds of injured Texans and the families of wrongfully killed victims secure many millions of dollars in damages. If you’ve been injured or a family member has been in a drunk driving accident, then we can help you dispense justice to the liable parties and secure the just restitution you deserve. Even if you are the drunk driver who injured yourself in an accident, we may be able to help you with a first party dram shop claim. Call us today for a free consultation to discuss the specific details of your case with a drunk driving accident specialist at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). We’re on hand any time to tell you how we can help you and explain any legal concepts you don’t understand. Whether or not you decide to hire us, you can’t hesitate to find an attorney or you’re doing harm to your chances of success that cannot be undone.