What it takes for Bars to be Held Liable Under the Texas Dram Shop Act
Dram shop laws are designed to hold negligent bars and restaurants liable for over-serving alcohol. What are “dram shop” cases? When an alcohol provider gives or sells alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated, and that drunk person later hurts someone, then the alcohol provider may be held liable for any resultant injuries. The plaintiff in these cases must prove:
- that the patron was “obviously intoxicated” when he or she was again provided with alcohol
- that the injuries were “proximately caused” by the alcohol.
What Circumstances Must Be Present?
Like a lot of areas of law, it is typically easiest to explain how dram shop liability works in hypotheticals. The following scenarios can help flesh out where a bar is, or is not, liable for your case:
- A patron arrives at a bar weaving, smelling of alcohol, slurring his speech, and his eyes are glassy. It’s clear to everyone at the bar that the person is already drunk. The bar serves the patron anyhow, he leaves and causes an accident on his way home. This is a classic case of serving someone obviously intoxicated. The bar is liable by way of providing the intoxicated person more alcohol. It does not entirely matter that the bar wasn’t the entity that “got him drunk” in the first place.
- A patron arrived at a bar sober and is served more alcohol than he can handle. He becomes intoxicated and his intoxication is apparent. If the bar serves him more alcohol, they are liable for injuries caused to the intoxicated patron or caused by the intoxicated patron. Again, continuing to serve the individual once the bar knows that he is drunk is the nature of the offense.
- A patron arrives at a bar and appears completely sober. Unbeknownst to the bar, the patron has an extremely low tolerance for alcohol. The bar serves her a reasonable amount of alcohol, however, in spite of their caution, she gets thoroughly inebriated due to her low tolerance for alcohol (perhaps she is an inexperienced drinker or perhaps she is on medication that accelerates her intoxication). If the patron leaves and later causes an accident, the bar cannot be held liable because, when she was served the alcohol, she appeared sober. Bars and restaurants do not have to know each patron’s capacity to handle alcohol.
- A patron walks into a bar appearing very sober, but before walking in, she consumed three shots in her car. She orders a glass of wine and within minutes is plainly inebriated. Even if she later causes an accident, the bar will not be held liable because, at the time it sold her the wine, she wasn’t obviously drunk.
- A relatively sober woman of short stature and slight build goes into a restaurant’s bar and orders seven drinks within one hour. While she might not “exhibit” the signs of intoxication, no one her size could possible not be completely drunk after consuming that much alcohol in that short a period of time. The bar is liable because they know or should know that she is intoxicated, even though she may not be outwardly manifesting signs of intoxication. Again, the key phrase here is “obvious intoxication”. No bar tender with half a brain should argue that it’s not obvious that someone is intoxicated when that bar tender knowingly served a patron seven drinks in an hour.
- A 300 lb. lineman for a professional football team arrives in a bar totally sober and orders a shot of liquor. He then immediately leaves, drives to another bar, but on his way crashes into someone and kills them. The bar will in all likelihood not be responsible for the wrongful death. Why? Because serving a shot of liquor to someone of his stature is not likely to cause him to become legally intoxicated, and therefore his being intoxicated was not likely the cause of the accident.
- A 19 year-old man enters a bar completely sobers purchases a beer. He leaves soon thereafter and gets into a fatal accident. Even though it was illegal for the bar to allow the teenager to purchase the alcohol, the same “obvious intoxication” burden must be met. In other words, even though it is illegal for the bar to serve the 19-year-old, that particular violation of the law does not make the bar automatically liable since he is an adult (even though he is too young to drink).
- A 17-year-old purchases a beer from a bar and crashes into a motorist on her drive home. A successful plaintiff will not have to make a showing that the she was “obviously intoxicated” at all. By serving the child at all, the bar incurs liability so long as the intoxication was the primary cause of the crash.
Another key point to mention is that the improper service of alcohol (either by way of serving an obviously intoxicated patron or by virtue of the bar serving a child any amount of alcohol) alone is not enough to make a bar liable. The accident itself must be caused by the intoxication. Both elements, improper service and the accident must be attributable to intoxication, must be present to have a valid case. Here are some examles:
- An over-served patron loses control and swerves over a median, crashing into an SUV at a high rate of speed, killing the family inside. The loved ones of the killed family will almost surely have a claim against the bar.
- An over-served patron, driving home is at a stoplight and is struck from behind. The car involuntarily runs into a pedestrian. Although the driver was drunk and the bar over-served him, the cause of the accident was another car, not the driver’s state of inebriation.
No matter where your case fits in these scenarios, we are here to answer your questions. Every case is unique and most of the details are probably not even known to you right now. We can go get the evidence you need to prove your dram shop claim against the bar. Call us today to find out how.