Are You the Victim of a Drunk Driving Accident? Let Us Help You Seek Compensation for Your Injuries
Like most cities in Texas, the ratio between drinking establishments and cabs in San Antonio tilts dramatically toward places to buy a drink. Thus, many people who drink in public sadly end up drinking and driving.
If you have been injured or loved one has been killed in drunken driving accident, then the legal process can be confusing if you have no prior legal experience. To receive the just restitution you deserve for your injury or your loss, you need the help of a skilled and experienced San Antonio drunk driving accident attorney. The question of liability for drunken driving accidents has been debated since the time of the horse and buggy, and it still a matter for dispute in modern day San Antonio.
It’s beyond debate that drunk drivers should be held accountable for the harm they cause, because as adults, we should all be responsible for our own actions. The discussion begins over whether or not drinking establishments who negligently serve drunken drivers past the point of drunkenness should also be held accountable for property damage, injuries and fatalities caused by drunk drivers. Texas recognizes a subset of laws called dram shop laws that allow the victims of drunk drivers and the loved ones of people killed by drunk drivers to pursue damages from drinking establishments helped the drunk driver become inebriated. Dram shop laws even permit the drunk driver to seek compensation from a bar or restaurant that served him or her past the point of intoxication. Not every drunken driving wreck allows the victim to pursue compensation through dram shop laws because not all drinking establishments negligently serve their patrons. So how can you determine if the circumstances of your accident warrant a dram shop lawsuit? You pick up the phone and call Grossman Law Offices for free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). Our drunk driving accident specialists will discuss the specific details of your case and help you figure out how you can proceed with your case.
San Antonio drunk driving accident attorney Michael Grossman and his team of specialists at Grossman Law Offices have spent the last 20 years helping injured victims and the families of wrongfully killed loved ones recover from drunken driving accidents by obtaining the compensation they deserve. Through our extensive experience, we’ve gained the knowledge and skill to help you successfully navigate the legal process and secure the damages to which you are entitled. Before you start making decisions about how to move forward with your case; however, you need a better understanding of the basics of dram shop laws to you, so you feel more at ease about where you stand.
We’d love to be able to magically undo the harm a drunk driver has done to you and your loved ones, but magic isn’t real – it’s only an illusion. In the real world, we can only make sure the drunk driver who injured you or took the life of your loved one is brought to justice and pays you the compensation you deserve.
What is a Dram Shop Case?
Throughout the country, drunken driving accidents are an increasingly more damaging and costly problem. In order to stem the tide of this growing dilemma, the Texas State Legislature passed dram shop laws, which decrease the amount of drunk drivers by holding drinking establishments accountable for serving their patrons responsibly. Based upon the misconception that dram shop laws let drunk drivers off the hook for the harm they cause, many people ignore the noble intent of these laws and assume they are unjust. However, dram shop laws hold bars and restaurants liable for drunk driving accidents in addition to the drunk driver, not instead of he drunk driver. People opposed to dram shop laws also fail to consider the importance they play in protecting the safety of the general public. Scientific tests have proven that a person’s ability to reason and function normally both mentally and physically becomes impaired at a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent, so that’s why the level of legal intoxication has been established at that level. People who are legally drunk lack the rational decision-making to determine if they can safely drive their cars. By mandating that servers in bars and restaurants think rationally for drunk drivers who cannot do so themselves, dram shop laws protect the safety of us all.
If you still disagree with the necessity of dram ship law, consider the analogy of a dentist who uses anesthesia on his patients for surgery, knowing that the drugs will leave the patient woozy and unable to operate heavy machinery. Since the dentist is aware of the dangers of the drug, he cannot allow his patient to drive a car immediately after surgery, and the dentist would be and should be responsible for any harm caused in accidents with patients that were permitted to drive home. Arguably, the dentist is more responsible for such an accident than the driver him or herself. The same principle holds true for drinking establishments in relation to drunk drivers. They know that alcohol can negatively affect the ability to driver, so they should be held accountable for any accidents caused by drinkers they over-sever – the same as the dentist and his patients.
While it’s not illegal to sell and serve liquor for any bar or restaurant with a license to do so, the interests of the general public are still directly opposed to those of drinking establishments, which need to sell alcohol in order to generate profits. Higher liquor sales means more money and greater tips for their servers and bartenders. The other side of this equation is the high price to society of increased liquor sales – the more drinks bars and restaurants sell, the more people who become intoxicated and the more drunk drivers there are on our roads. By forcing bars and restaurants to serve responsibly and stop service to obviously intoxication in order to avoid accountability for the accidents caused by drunk drivers, dram shop laws can improve the overall safety of the state of Texas.
Again, don’t make the mistake of thinking these laws benefit the drunk driver. Dram shop claims against drinking establishments are intended to go hand-in-hand with lawsuits against the drunk driver – not replace them. Nor are dram shop laws intended to bring back the dark days of prohibition, and Texans are still free to drink as much as they’d like in the safety of their own homes. In pubic, on the other hand, it’s illegal to be intoxicated, so drinking establishments are breaking the law when they serve patrons who are already inebriated. Thus, they are negligent in doing so, and the purpose of dram shop laws is to make sure that all those negligent parties who cause drunken driving wrecks are made to pay for the harm they cause.
Elements of a Dram Shop Case
Successful dram shop claims must meet four conditions, just like any other personal injury or wrongful death claim:
- Duty – During any interaction, all people must act reasonably to provide for the safety of others. The situation and circumstances of the interaction determine what that duty entails. When it comes to drunk driving litigation, drivers must driver while sober, and bars and restaurants must serve their patrons responsibly.
- Breach – The required duty was neglected. Breaches in drunken driving accidents occur when someone drives under the influence of alcohol or when a bar or restaurant fails to follow state regulations for responsibly serving customers who then drive.
- Causation – The breach of duty caused the drunken driving accident. Intoxication is a cause in fact of every drunk driving accident. But in terms of dram shop laws, the victim, also known as the plaintiff, must prove that the bar or restaurant’s negligent service of a customer caused the accident.
- Damages – The plaintiff suffered financial losses as a result of the accident.
Resolutions for Injuries Suffered in Drunken Driving Accidents
Plaintiffs can pursue the same damages after a drunk driving accident as any other type of accident that caused a personal injury or wrongful death, regardless of whether a dram shop lawsuit has been filed or compensation is merely being sought from the drunken driver.
People who suffer injuries in drunken driving accidents can pursue compensation for:
- Medical expenses, both past and future
- Pain and suffering
- Damage to property
- Lost salary as a result of missed work during time spent in the hospital or seeking treatment or rehabilitation
- Diminished future earning capacity caused by lifelong disabilities
Similar to any other type of wrongful death claim, people who lose family members in drunken driving accidents can seek both wrongful death damages and survival damages. Spouses, children, parents, and in some cases siblings can seek wrongful death damages, which are designed to compensate them for the losses they’ve personally suffered as a result of their loved one’s death. Compensation for wrongful death damages may include:
- Funeral bills
- Any medical expenses incurred by the victim
- Loss of financial support the victim provided to the family
- Loss of the familial love and consortium that nobody but the victim could provide
- Emotional and mental trauma
Survival damages, on the other hand, may only be sought by the closest living family member of the victim, with that right passing down from spouse to children to parents and finally to siblings. Survival damages are intended to give the closing living relative the right to seek the compensation the victim would have been able to pursue had or she survived the accident and only been injured. Compensation for Survival damages may include:
- Medical bills from treatment the victim would have needed in the future
- Pain and suffering experienced by the victim during the wreck
- Emotional and mental trauma caused by injuries and the necessary rehabilitation
- Property damage
- Lost salary during the time the victim spent in the hospital seeking additional treatment
- Lost earning capacity in the future caused by crippling injuries
The state of Texas doesn’t view drunk driving accidents as a tragic incident resulting from a single moment in time, but these wrecks are considered to the end result of chain events. The driver starts out the night soberly getting behind the wheel. Then, he or she consumes the first alcoholic beverage of the night before continuing to consume alcohol until the legal limit has been surpassed. Finally, without the ability to determine if he or she can still drive, he or she gets back in the car only to cause a drunk driving accident, snapping the chain of events to a tragic end.
Just like the causes of many other accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities, drinking establishments don’t need to be physically involved in an accident to be the proximate cause of it. To grasp this concept, let’s take a look at an accident in which a homeless person wanders out into the middle of the road, causing a driver to wrench his or her wheel to the right, careening the car into another automobile. The accident doesn’t hurt the homeless person at all, but he or she is the proximate cause of the damages suffered by the drivers and pedestrians of both cars.
To hold a drinking establishment liable for the harm caused by a drunk driving accident, the plaintiff in a dram shop case must be able to demonstrate that the bar or restaurant should have spotted blatant signs of intoxication in the customer and stopped service. Since bars and restaurants know the ways to defend against accusations of negligent service, you need a time-tested San Antonio drunk driving accident attorney to help you in order to have the strongest chance of securing the compensation to which you are entitled. Bars and restaurants must have tried one of two methods to spot obviously intoxicated customers in order to avoid liability:
- Direct evidence – Servers in a drinking establishment can spot drunk patrons by looking for obvious external physical signs of inebriation, including: falling asleep, slurred speech, preoccupation with lights, aggressive behavior, loud talking, or unbalanced standing, sitting or walking.
- Circumstantial evidence – Many drinkers don’t show obvious signs of intoxication because they’re habitual drinkers who are accustomed to consuming large amounts of liquor. Thus, drinking establishments must rely on circumstantial evidence. Some use different colored glasses or the amount of coasters to track the amount of drinks served. However, there’s a much simpler method in modern bars that feature point-of-sale ordering systems. Such ordering systems not only tell servers how many drinks have been ordered by a patron every time they order a new one, but also, the time when the tab began. Relying on mandatory Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission training, any server can take the amount of drinks a patron has consumed in a given amount of time and come up with a rough estimate of how drunk that patron has become.
The fact of the matter is that most drunk driving accidents are not caused by drivers who are mildly intoxicated, but by those who are wildly drunk. Therefore, in most cases, drunk drivers who injure or kill others are blatantly intoxicated, and the accidents they cause could have been averted if the servers in the drinking establishment had maintained their duty to spot the drunken patron and halted service.
While intoxication is a cause in fact for every drunken driving accident, the plaintiff must be able to prove that a drunken driving accident was foreseeable for a bar or restaurant as a result of the driver’s obvious intoxication in order to succeed with a dram shop lawsuit. Successfully proving foreseeability can be difficult because drinking establishments are not responsible for predicting all accidents involving their customers – just those involving drunken driving.
In order to understand this concept better, let’s examine an old wrongful death case that involved a man who was concealing a large cache of fireworks under his coat as he waited for subway on a crowded platform. With people jostling for position in anticipation of the arrival of the train, someone bumped the man, causing him to spill the fireworks onto the electrified third rail. The incendiaries exploded upon impact, toppling a pole onto a young girl and killing her instantly. The family of the girl family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the subway company, citing the lack of safe conditions on the platform. However, the court rejected the claim, ruling that the accident was not foreseeable since the subway company had no way of knowing the man was hiding fireworks. The claim may very well have been resolved differently had the girl fallen off the platform onto the third rail, for that would have been a foreseeable accident.
At Grossman Law Offices, our San Antonio drunk driving accident law firm, our attorneys have learned how to prove drunken driving accidents were foreseeable for drinking establishment because we’ve successfully tried hundreds of dram shop claims.
First Party Claims
Dram shop claims can be divided into two categories: first party claims and third party claims. First party dram shop claims deal with drunken driving accidents in which intoxicated drivers injure themselves and then seek compensation from the drinking establishment that negligently served them. Third party claims, conversely, allow innocent bystanders who are injured by drunk drivers to seek restitution from the bar or restaurant that over-served the drunk driver.
Comparative liability, the process of determining who was most to blame for a drunk driving accident, decides if a plaintiff can prevail with a first party dram shop claim. IN the state of Texas, bars and restaurants must be more than 50 percent at fault for a drunk driving accident to be held accountable for the harm caused by the wreck. By looking at an accident that occurred when two cars changed lanes at the same time, we can better understand this concept. In such a case as this, one driver is almost always more at fault than the other because somebody had to signal first. Sometimes, comparative liability can be easily figured out because one of the drivers didn’t turn on his or her blinker at all before changing lanes.
In first party dram shop claims, on the contrary, comparative liability is much more difficult to determine in favor of the plaintiff. As a result, most lawyers refuse to accept first party dram shop cases, and very few attorneys know how to win them. Our experienced San Antonio drunk driving accident attorneys have confidence in our ability to win first party dram shop claims because we have a long history of convincing juries that drinking establishments were more at fault for drunk driving accidents than anyone else. As a result of our efforts, many of our clients have secured damages in first party dram shop claims, and we’re confident we can secure compensation for you too.
Third Party Claims
In order to seek compensation from negligent bars and restaurants, innocent injured victims of drunk drivers must file third party dram shop. To repeat, third party dram shop claims are designed to hold both the negligent drinking establishment and the drunk driver accountable for the accident they’ve caused. If the driver is insolvent and can’t afford to pay for the damages he or she has caused, dram shop laws can be critically important for allowing innocent victims to avoid the burden of paying for the damages they’ve suffered alone. Once all of these factors have been considered, the importance of dram shop laws must be recognized. Responsible drinking establishments limit the amount of drunk drivers and subsequently the amount of drunk driving accidents by stepping in to sop service before customers become extremely drunk in order to protect the safety of the general public.
Obstacle: Exclusive Remedy
In other personal injury and wrongful death claims, plaintiffs may have various remedies for seeking compensation, but drunken driving accidents permit only one exclusive remedy for seeking compensation against the drinking establishment — dram shop laws.
For example, a man once hired our firm after his hand was pulverized while he was working in a meat processing plant for a national steakhouse chain. The man had been taught to use a hard metal hook for scraping skin and fat off of various pieces of meat as they passed down a conveyor belt. The training manual supplied by the company, however, instructed anyone before this job to use a soft, flexible plastic hook for this purpose because it would bend and not get caught up in the apparatus. The inflexible metal hook, on the other hand, did just that, jamming the machine and causing our client’s hand to be skinned and mutilated. Due to the wide variety of negligence, our attorneys could file suit for insufficient hiring, training, or supervision. A dram shop claim is the only remedy against a negligent drinking establishment.
Obstacle: Punitive Damages
Punitive damages can be imposed on parties that cause other types of accidents with gross negligence – wanton disregard for the safety of others. Short of forcing patrons to drink, bars and restaurants cannot commit gross negligence in dram shop cases, so no punitive damages are permitted against them.
Obstacle: Safe Harbor Defense
Bars and restaurants have the benefit of the Safe Harbor Defense, a veritable golden parachute against dram shop claims, while other defendant in a personal injury or wrongful death enjoy similar protection. A plaintiff cannot win a dram shop lawsuit against a bar or restaurant that can prove its servers attempted to follow the regulations in Texas for responsibly serving customers. To receive the protection of the Safe Harbor Defense, bars and restaurants must prove that they:
- Required all employees to obtain certification from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC)
- Took action to ensure all employees actually received TABC certification and the training that goes along with it in how to serve customers responsibly and spot blatant signs of intoxication in them.
- Instituted a system to deal with people who become intoxicated. No matter precautions drinking establishments take, people will go out of their way to become drunk, sneaking in flasks, drinking before they go out, or accepting drinks from other customers. Most bars deal with this situation by calling upon the manager to intervene and cut off service. In most cases, the customer is given food and coffee before being put in a taxi.
Obstacle: Regular Insurance vs. Liquor Liability
Due to the high cost of liquor liability insurance, many bars and restaurants only subscribe to premises liability insurance that protects against common accidents like slipping and falling or hot liquids beings spilled on patrons. When someone makes a dram shop claim against a general liability insurance policy, the insurers usually refuse the claim. However, a skilled San Antonio drunk driving accident attorney can frame an argument to legally place a dram shop claim within the realm of a premises liability policy. Grossman Law Offices has resolved numerous dram shop claims in which we’ve secured insurance settlements from premises liability policies. We may be able to help you achieve the same results provided the unique details of your case permit it.
How Grossman Law Offices Wins Cases
Right now, you must act immediately to find a lawyer you can trust. The evidence in any case begins to fade away quickly, even more so in drunken driving cases where much of the evidence is on a busy roadway that evolves quickly. You need to put a trained professional on the trail of evidence as soon as possible, so he or she can conduct a timely and diligent investigation before the necessary evidence has disappeared. You must find a San Antonio drunk driving accident attorney as soon as you can, or the witnesses in your case will be harder to locate and will have increased difficulty remembering what they saw, the cars involved will be destroyed, videos will be erased, and the accident scene will be altered.
At Grossman Law Offices, our San Antonio drunk driving accident attorneys have been investigating drunk driver accidents for two decades, so we’ve mastered the ability to locate the evidence necessary to win any case. We start in the bar where the drunk driver became intoxicated, interviewing servers and patrons in an effort to establish how obviously intoxicated the driver was and if the servers were performing their duties responsibly. In some cases, the servers may have actually been drinking themselves. Next, we pull any bank or credit card records to see how much alcohol was purchased by the drunk driver in the bar. However, that doesn’t actually prove how much liquor was drunk by the driver, since he could have taken drinks purchased by others or bought rounds for friends. Moreover, our investigative techniques have changed with the times during the 20 years we’ve been handling drunk driving cases. For example, as cellular phones became universally popular, we started to notice that many intoxicated people like to call their friends while under the influence of alcohol – so-called drunk dialing. We’ve found that the people they call can often attest to noticing obvious signs of drunkenness like excessively loud talking or slurred speech. In some cases, the drunk driver even declared that he or she was drunk (“I’m so wasted!”). As a result, we track down phone records and contact anyone called on the night in question. In rare cases, friends of the drunk driver even film cell phone video of the drunken binge. Although these films were intended for personal humiliation, they often end up as evidence in court. All of the physical evidence we find is cataloged and locked down, so it will be admissible in court later.
In one previous investigation, we saved the day for a client in a first party dram shop claim in which the bar’s servers said our client wasn’t blatantly intoxicated in the bar. While his bank records showed he purchased eight shots in two hours on his debit card, he bartender countered that he had been buying shots for friends. So, we turned to his phone records and tracked down a friend who spoke with the drunk driver and then met him at the bar later. They proceeded to drink together and at 2 a.m. the friend shot cell phone video of the driver that proved his drunkenness was blatantly obvious to anyone who watched the video. We know how to find evidence where other lawyers don’t even know where to look for it.
We Come Armed with Experts
Physical evidence isn’t always going to be available to convince a jury of a plaintiff’s right to compensation, so our San Antonio drunk driving accident attorneys also rely upon the testimony of various experts with whom we have relationships: economists, toxicologists, endocrinologists, life care planners, and safe alcohol sales consultants. To see how important expert testimony can be, let’s take a look at a case we handled involving a motorcyclist who died after a spill while drunk driving. His family hired us to handle his first party dram shop claim, and we discovered that his BAC was .11 percent when his blood was tested at the hospital. The bar claimed its servers could not detect his level of drunkenness while serving him because .11 percent is only slightly higher than the legal limit. Such a low level of intoxication would have caused most other lawyers to drop the case, but our investigators persisted. After questioning the EMTs who accompanied the man on the helicopter flight to the hospital, we learned that he had been given several blood transfusions along the way. We brought in the endocrinologist with whom we consult, and he took into account the man’s body-weight and the amount of blood he received to calculate that the man’s actual BAC was .19 at the time of the fatal accident. The bar had to abandon their claim that the man wasn’t drunk enough to have been easily detected, and our endocrinologist’s testimony ripped the bar’s golden parachute to shreds, allowing our clients to receive the compensation they deserved.
To get the compensation you deserve in a dram shop claim, you must prove the equitable value of the compensation requested in addition to establishing the liability of the drinking establishment. Some damages like medical expenses and property damage can established with the bills, but other forms of compensation are much more open to interpretation. To prove up damages like the cost of future treatment, lost future earning capacity, and the degree of pain and suffering, we turn to testimony from medical, psychological and economic experts.
We Can Help You
The San Antonio drunk driving accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have invested 20 years in learning how to handle any eventuality that arises in both first and third party dram shop claims. Hundreds of injured Texans and the loved ones of people killed by drunk drivers have secured many millions of dollars in damages as a result of our tireless efforts. If a drunk driver has robbed you of someone you love or your health, we know how to help you find justice and the compensation you deserve. We may be able to assist you with a first party dram shop claim even if you were the drunk driver who caused the wreck that injured you. To find out how we can help, call us now for a free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). Our drunk driving specialists are happy to discuss the specific details of your case and explain any legal concepts you don’t understand. By continuing to delay in hiring an attorney, you are doing harm to your case that cannot be undone.