Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents Have Options – Call Our Tyler Texas Attorneys Today
People know Tyler for roses – not it’s abundance of cabs. Thus, many people who consume alcohol in Tyler resort to drinking and driving and poor decision often ends in drunken driving accidents. In fact, Texas is the leader in number of drunk driving accidents in the United States each year.
If you’ve been injured or a loved one has been killed in a drunken driving accident and you’re have no legal experience, you can easily be overwhelmed by the process to secure the compensation you deserve for your injury or loss. To safely navigate the confusing legal process, you need the guidance of a skilled and time-tested Tyler drunk driving accident lawyer. Since the days of the horse and buggy, the argument regarding who should be accountable for harm caused by drunken driving accidents has raged, and it’s still a matter for debate in Tyler today.
Of course, it’s universally accepted that the drunk driver should bear financial responsibility for any accident he or she causes, for adults should be responsible for their own actions. However, many people disagree about the issue of liability for the bar or restaurant that served the drunk driver past the point of inebriation. The state of Texas says that they should, and the Lone Star State recognizes a subset of laws called dram shop laws that give drunk driving victims and the families of drunk driving fatalities to seek compensation from the bars and restaurants that negligently served the drunk driver past the point of obvious drunkenness.
Was the Dram Shop Negligent?
Dram shop laws even make it possible for drunk drivers who injure themselves to sue the drinking establishment that served them. However, not every drunken driving accident is actionable with a legitimate dram shop lawsuit because not all drinking establishments serve alcohol negligently. So, how can you tell whether or not the details of your accident make a dram shop claim possible? You call Grossman Law Offices for free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free). Our experienced and knowledgeable drunk driving accident specialists can listen to the specific circumstances of your accident and determine the right legal venue for you to take in order to seek compensation.
Tyler drunk driving accident lawyer Michael Grossman and his associates at Grossman Law Offices have spent the last 20 years helping injured Texans and the loved ones of deceased victims seek restitution for the harm that has been done to them through drunk driving accident litigation – both through dram shop laws and against drunk drivers. Over the course of hundreds of cases, we’ve seen virtually ever complication that can occur in drunk driving cases, so we have the knowledge and experience to help you find equitable compensation for the property damage, injuries and losses you have suffered.
First, we want to inform you about the basics of dram shop laws, so you can better understand the situation in which you are involved. Sadly, we can’t make the harm that has been done to you disappear. Disappearing acts are matters for magicians, not lawyers. However, we will do everything in our power to make sure that the parties who caused your accident are held to justice and made to pay for what they have done.
What is a Dram Shop Case?
Throughout the country, drunken driving is huge societal problem that has ruined hundreds of thousands of lives and caused many million dollars worth of damage. In Texas, the problem is even more severe, as the rate of drunk driving accidents here is well above the national average. Thus, the Texas State Legislature enacted dram shop laws to combat this problem by attempting to reduce the amount of drunken divers on the road by forcing bars and restaurants to responsibly serve their customers.
However, many people still ignore the noble intent of dram shop laws and consider them to be unjust based upon the false assumption that these laws allow drunk drivers to escape liability for their own negligent actions. These people are making false assumptions without considering all of the facts. Drinking establishments are not held liable for drunk driving accidents instead of drunk drivers but in addition to them. Moreover, these laws perform the much more vital service of protecting the public safety by decreasing the amount of drunk driving accidents by reducing their source – the amount of drunk drivers.
Making Rational Decisions
Every state in the nation has established .08 percent blood alcohol concentration as the legal limit for public drunkenness because that’s the point at which science has determined that a person’s mental and physical ability and decision-making capacity becomes impaired. Simply stated, legal intoxication prevents a person from making rational decisions, so he or she is incapable of deciding if he or she can drive safely. By compelling the servers in bars and restaurants to make decisions for drunk drivers who are incapable of thinking for themselves, dram shop laws make Texas safer for us all.
If you still don’t agree with the necessity for dram shop laws, consider the analogy of a dentist who uses anesthesia to perform oral surgery on one of his patients. The dentist knows the anesthesia will leave the patient unable to safely drive after the procedure. Thus, in order to avoid liability for any accidents the patient may cause, the dentist must make sure the patient has a safe ride home after the surgery. The dentist would be arguably more to blame for any accident and injuries caused by the patient under the influence of these drugs than the patient him or herself. The exact same principle holds true for drinking establishments who know the detrimental effect alcohol has on decision-making and driving but still serve their patrons past the point of obvious intoxication.
Profits vs. The Public Welfare
While selling liquor is legal for a licensed bar or restaurant, the interests of these drinking establishments is still in direct conflict with the greater good of society. Bars and restaurants can make more money if they sell more drinks, and bartenders and servers are encouraged to play along because they’ll make bigger tips from larger tabs. However, the cost to society of these increased profits is steep, since more drinks sold means more drunken patrons, more drunk drivers and more drunk driving wrecks. By imposing penalties against the drinking establishments that compel them to serve alcohol responsibly, dram shop laws put the brakes on this cycle and make the Lone Star State a safer place to drive.
Of course, any dram shop claim should be coupled with a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver who caused the accident, so dram shop laws aren’t letting them off the hook. Furthermore, Texans can still drink a much as the want in private because dram shop laws don’t re-institute prohibition. On the other hand, drinking establishments shouldn’t be serving customers who are obviously drunk because it is illegal to even be in public while legally drunk. Since bars and restaurants that serve drunken patrons are negligent, they should be held accountable for the accidents they cause.
Elements of a Texas Dram Shop Case
Just like after other accidents that result in other personal injury or wrongful death claims, dram shop claims must meet four conditions to succeed:
- Duty – In any interaction, all people owe each other the duty to act reasonably to provide for each other’s safety. The situation and circumstances determine exactly what that duty entails. In terms of drunken driving accidents, drivers have the duty to drive only when sober, and bars and restaurants must serve their patrons responsibly.
- Breach – The defendant failed to perform a duty. In drunken driving accidents, breaches occur when someone drives while intoxicated.
- Causation – The breach of duty resulted in an accident. Drunkenness is a cause in fact or every accident involving a drunk driver; although, it’s much more challenging to prove that a drinking establishment’s negligent service caused a wreck.
- Damages – The victim, also known the plaintiff, or his or her family suffered monetary losses.
Resolutions for Injuries Suffered in Drunken Driving Accidents
Whether pursuing damages from the negligent drinking establishment or solely from the drunken driver, plaintiffs can seek types of restitution after drunk driving accidents as the victims of any other type of accident that resulted in a personal injury or wrongful death. Injury victims have the right to pursue compensation for:
- Past and future medical bills
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Lost salary due to time off work while in the hospital or seeking treatment and rehabilitation
- Lost future earning potential due to crippling injuries
- Loss of household services
Wrongful Death Damages
Also the same as victims of other fatal mishaps, the loved ones of those killed by drunken driving accidents have the right to seek both wrongful death damages and survival damages. Wrongful death damages are designed to compensate family members for the damages they’ve suffered individually and may be pursued by spouses, children, parents, and in some cases siblings. Restitution for wrongful death damages may include:
- Funeral bills
- Medical bills incurred by the victim before perishing
- Loss of the monetary support provided by the deceased
- Loss of the unique familial love, camaraderie and consortium provided by the victim
- Emotional and mental trauma
- Loss of society/companionship
Survival damages, conversely, may only be pursued by the closest surviving relative of the deceased and are intended to provide compensation for the damages the victim cold have pursued with a personal injury lawsuit had he or she survived the accident. The victim’s spouse is at the front of the line to seek survival damages, followed by the children, parents and finally siblings. Survival damages may include restitution for:
- Anticipated cost of future treatment required by the victim’s injuries
- Pain and suffering felt during the accident by the victim
- Emotional and mental trauma caused by injuries and rehabilitation
- Property damage
- Lost salary during the hospital stay and subsequent treatment process the victim who have needed
- Lost earning potential in the future because of crippling injuries
Showing Proximate Cause
The state of Texas doesn’t view drunken driving accidents as random singular events but rather as the end result of a chain of events, beginning before the driver is even intoxicated when he or she drives out on the town. Another link is added to the chain of events when the driver has his or her first alcoholic beverage and then grows longer and longer with each drink consumed until the driver becomes drunk and attempts to get back behind the wheel, only to cause a wreck.
Just like any other negligent parties in other accidents, drinking establishments don’t need to be physically involved in a drunk driving accident to be a proximate cause of it. To better grasp the concept of proximate cause, let’s think about an accident that occurs when one car runs a stop sign and passes safely through an intersection only because a car traveling down the intersecting road slams on its breaks, getting rear-ended by the truck following behind it. While the first car is untouched in the wreck, the driver is the proximate cause of the injuries suffered by the drivers and pedestrians of in the other car and the truck that rear-ended it.
Did They Know?
For a drinking establishment to be liable in a dram shop case, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the servers of the bar or restaurant should have noticed obvious indicators of intoxication in the customer and halted service. Drinking establishments know how to defends themselves against accusations of negligent service, so you need the help of an experienced Tyler drunk driving accident lawyer. Bars and restaurants must only attempt one of two methods to detect patrons who are obviously intoxicated in order to avoid liability:
- Direct evidence – Most drunken people exhibit external physical signs of intoxication, so a drinking establishment’s servers must be on the look out for these signs, including: slurred speech, falling asleep, preoccupation with lights, aggressive behavior, loud talking, or an inability to stand, sit or walk without wobbling.
- Circumstantial evidence – Many habitual drinkers don’t exhibit obvious signs of intoxication because they’re accustomed to drinking large quantities of alcohol. Thus, drinking establishments must find other ways of spotting these drunks. Some collect coasters or use different-colored glasses to denote the amount of drinks ordered. However, modern technology has provided most drinking establishments with sophisticated point-of-sale systems that not only track when a tab was started but also how many drinks have been purchased by a patron. Any server who is armed with this information and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission training can come to a rough estimate of how intoxicated any patron has become with each drink ordered.
Most serious drunken driving accidents are not caused by mildly drunk drivers but by those who are well beyond the legal limit. Thus, if drinking establishments make a concerted effort to spot these intoxicated patrons, then many drunken driving accidents could be averted.
Dram Shop Obstacles
A drunk driver who gets into a wreck is automatically liable for the damages caused because intoxication is a cause in fact for every drunken driving accident. Proving damages with a dram shop claim, however, is much more difficult, for the plaintiff must be able to prove that drinking establishment could foresee a drunken driving accident. Since drinking establishments are only expected to foresee drunken driving accidents and not other types of mishaps involving drunks, proving foreseeability isn’t easy.
The concept of foreseeability can best be illustrated by a legal anecdote involving a man who entered a crowded subway platform with a large sack of fireworks hidden beneath his coat. The over-flooded platform caused someone to bump into the man, forcing him to drop the bag of fireworks onto the electrified third rail, where they instantly blew up, knocking over an electrical pole that fatally crushed a small girl.
Claiming the girl’s death was caused by the lack of safety on the platform, her loved ones filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the subway company. However, the court rejected the claim, ruling that the subway company had no way of foreseeing the hidden fireworks, so they could not he held accountable for the fatal accident. If the girl had been bumped and fallen onto the tracks; on the other hand, the claim would have likely succeeded because that would have been a foreseeable conclusion to a crowded platform.
At Grossman Law Offices, our Tyler drunk driving accident lawyers have successfully tried hundreds of dram shop cases, so we know we can prove drinking establishments should have foreseen drunken driving accidents.
First Party Claims
Dram shop claims can be divided into two categories: first party claims when a drunk driver injures him or herself in an accident and pursues compensation from the bar that negligently served him or her and third party claims when a drunken driver injuries an innocent bystander in an accident, and the victim seeks compensation from the negligent bar or restaurant. Because of jury bias, first party claims are generally harder to prove. The jurors may see a drunk person as irresponsible and liable for his own injuries. The plaintiff must show he was obviously drunk and that the bar knew or should have known it when they over-served him.
Comparative liability, the process of deciding who was most to blame for a drunk driving wreck, plays a critical role in determining if a plaintiff can prevail with a first party dram shop claim. According to Texas law, to be held accountable with a first party dram shop claim for the harm caused by a drunk driving accident, drinking establishments must be more than 50 percent to blame for the wreck.
Texas Modified Comparative Fault
To illustrate the concept of comparative liability, let’s consider a wreck that occurs when two cars change into the same lane simultaneously. While both drivers are to blame for this type of accident, one of them is invariably more at fault than the other, for one had to signal first. Often times, one of the drivers doesn’t turn on his or her blinker at all, making it easy to determine who was more to blame.
In first party dram shop claims, on the contrary, it’s rarely that easy to figure out comparative liability, especially in the plaintiff’s favor. Many lawyers find this process so difficult that they refuse to take on any first party dram shop claims, and other attorneys simply lack the skill to prevail with such cases. With a long history of convincing juries that comparative liability tilted towards bars and restaurants, our experienced Tyler drunk driving accident lawyers have confidence in our ability to win any first party dram shop claims. Our success helping others secure compensation indicates we can do the same for you.
Third Party Claims
In order to receive compensation from negligent drinking establishments, innocent injured victims of drunk driving accidents and the family members of wrongfully killed victims of drunk drivers must file third party dram shop claims. To repeat, third party dram shop claims hold both the driver and the drinking establishment liable for drunk driving accidents – all of the parties whose negligence caused the accident.
In cases where the drunk driver lacks solvency, dram shop claims are even more important because the victim would otherwise be forced to pay for the damages him or herself. Once all of these factors are considered, a reasonable person must concede the necessity of dram shop laws. Responsible bars and restaurants can limit the amount of drunk drivers and subsequently the harm they cause to the general public by monitoring the level of intoxication of their patrons and stopping service before their level of drunkenness gets out of control.
Potential Roadblock: Exclusive Remedy
Following drunken driving accidents, dram shop laws are the exclusive remedy for pursuing restitution from negligent drinking establishments; whereas, plaintiffs in other personal injury and wrongful death claims have several means for filing suit. For instance, our firm was once hired by a man who mangled his hand while working for a meat processing plant for a national steakhouse’s meat processing plant. The man had been trained to use a rigid metal hook to scrape fat and grizzle off of steaks as they passed down a conveyor belt.
However, the company’s training manual instructed that this task be performed with a flexible plastic hook because its malleability would prevent it from getting stuck in the machinery. The inflexible metal hook, on the contrary, got jammed in the machine, and our client severely mutilated his hand as a result. In order to pursue restitution, our attorneys could file suit for negligent hiring, training, or supervision. If a drinking establishment has contributed to the cause of a drunken driving accident by negligently serving a patron, then the exclusive remedy is a dram shop claim.
Potential Roadblock: Punitive Damages
Parties that commit gross negligence, a wanton neglect of duty – in other types of accidents, can be hit with punitive damages in order to discourage such behavior. However, short of strapping a customer down and force-feeding them alcohol like a goose that’s being raised for foie gras, drinking establishments can’t commit gross negligence in a dram shop claim and thus face no punitive damages.
Potential Roadblock: Safe Harbor Defense
Drinking establishments enjoy the protection of a golden parachute: the Safe Harbor Defense, setting them apart from the defendants in any other type of personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Plaintiffs cannot win a dram shop claim against a bar or restaurant that can prove that it attempted to follow the guidelines in Texas for responsibly serving alcohol. To use the Safe Harbor Defense, drinking establishments must establish that they met the following conditions:
- Required all employees to receive Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) certification.
- Made sure all employees actually did get certified by the TABC and went through the training that entails in how to serve alcohol responsibly and spot obvious signs of drunkenness in patrons.
- To handle intoxicated patrons, the bar implemented a protocol. No matter what drinking establishments do to prevent it, some people will become intoxicated by drinking before they go out, sneaking flasks into bars, or accepting shots from other patrons. Drinking establishments must be ready for this, in most cases, turning to the manager to step in, cut off service, give the patron sobering coffee or food and then see to it that he or she gets into a cab.
Potential Roadblock: Liquor Liability vs. Regular Insurance
The price of liquor liability insurance can be extraordinarily expensive, causing many drinking establishments to only purchase premises liability insurance protecting against accidents like spilled hot liquids or slipping and falling. Universally, premises liability insurance providers almost always deny dram shop claims. Depending upon the details, however, the law might view the situation differently.
Drawing upon our extensive experience, our Tyler drunk driving accident lawyers can frame an argument to convince the court that a dram shop claim falls under the umbrage of a general liability policy. Many of our clients have secured insurance settlements in the past from premises liability policies for many other clients, and we may be able to help you to the same resolution, depending upon the circumstances of your case.
How We Win Cases
Right now, you need to act as quickly as you can to hire an attorney. The necessary evidence to prove any case disappears quickly – especially on a busy roadway. Witnesses who saw the accident become hard to locate and forget the details of what they saw, video security systems tape over their memories, totaled cars get demolished, and the physical features of the accident quickly change. In order to find the evidence you need, you need a Tyler drunk driving accident lawyer to conduct a thorough investigation as soon as possible.
With two decades investigating drunken driving accidents under our belts, the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices are experts at finding the evidence needed to sway a jury in favor of our clients. We start our investigation in the bar — where the accident began with the driver drinking beyond the point of intoxication. We need to determine how obviously drunk the driver was and whether or not the servers were performing their duties responsibly or may have even been flaunting them by drinking themselves.
Thus, we question all of the servers and do our best to locate and interview any patrons. Next, we pull and examine credit card or bank records to discover how much alcohol the drunk driver purchased. However, this amount is only circumstantial evidence of the level of intoxication because the driver could have received drinks from other customers or bought drinks for his or her friends. Over the two decades we’ve been handling drunken driving accident litigation, we’ve had to adapt our techniques to the changing times.
For example, everyone carries cell phones now, and we’ve learned that many people like to call their friends when intoxicated. The people they call can often testify to detecting obvious verbal signs of drunkenness: slurred speech, loud talking, and even outright admission of intoxication (“I’m so wasted!). Now, we always pull phone records, locate and question everyone called by the drunk driver on the night of the accident. In a few cases we’ve handled, people have even used cell phones to shoot video of their drunken friends that we’ve been able to use as evidence to prove obvious drunkenness.
In one example, our firm was hired to handle a first party dram shop case for a client after the servers in the bar’s claimed he was not noticeably drunk. While our client’s credit card statement showed that he purchased eight shots in only two hours, the servers claimed he was buying rounds for other drinkers. Looking for more evidence, we turned to his phone records and questioned everyone with whom he spoke. We found a friend who not only talked to our client that night but also met him to drink in the bar. At 2 a.m., this friend filmed video on his cell phone showing to anyone who watched the film just how drunk our client was. Our experience allows our investigators to find evidence where other attorneys don’t even know where to look.
A Myriad of Experts
Physical evidence will not be able to win every case, so our Tyler drunk driving accident lawyers maintain consulting relationships with a variety of different experts who can be used to testify and convince juries who are wavering: economists, toxicologists, endocrinologists, life care planners, and safe alcohol sales consultants. In one example, we were hired to handle a first party dram shop claim by the family a motorcyclist who died in a fatal spill. When the biker’s blood alcohol concentration was tested at the hospital, his BAC was only .11 percent, so the bar claimed its servers could not detect his drunkenness.
Upon discovering the man’s BAC, most other attorneys would have dumped the case like month-old luncheon meat, but our firm kept investigating. After interviewing the EMTs who accompanied the man to the hospital, we learned they gave him extensive blood transfusions on the CareFlite to the hospital. The endocrinologist we use as an expert witness was able to take the amount of blood transfusions the man received and his body weight to extrapolate that his actual BAC was .19 percent, at the time of the fatal spill, making his level of drunkenness blatantly obvious to anyone with whom he came into contact. Our expert mutilated the bar’s golden parachute, and our clients received the compensation they deserved.
Proving Your Losses
Proving the liability of the bar or restaurant isn’t enough to secure the damages you deserve in a dram shop claim, for you must also prove the adequacy of the compensation that you’ve requested from the court. Restitution for some damages like medical expenses and property damage can easily established with the physical bills, but other damages are much open to interpretation and debate. To convince the court of our estimated 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.
Our Firm Can Help You
After investing two decades of our lives to handling drunken driving cases, the Tyler drunk driving accident lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have acquired the necessary skill and knowledge to overcome any difficulty that arises in first or third party dram shop claims. Hundreds of injured Texans and the family of those killed by drunken drivers have secured millions and millions of dollars in damages thanks to our help, so we know we can help you recover from the harm a drunk driver has done to you and your family by securing the compensation you deserve.
We may even be able to help you get compensation from the negligent drinking establishment if you were the drunk driver who caused an accident. To find out how we can help you, call us now for a free consultation at 1-855-397-1234 (toll free and confidential). Our drunk driving accident specialists are eager discuss the specific details of your case and explain any legal concepts you don’t understand. Don’t delay in hiring a lawyer or you risk doing irreparable damage to your chances of securing the compensation to which you are entitled.