Unfortunately, drunk driving accidents remain all too common despite tougher laws and more awareness of the issue. When an intoxicated driver injures or kills someone in a car wreck, most of the time the legal responsibility falls on the drunk driver to pay for the victim’s damages. In some instances, however, the bar or restaurant may bear some legal liability as well.
Dram Shop Laws Allow Lawsuits Against Bars and Restaurants
A personal injury suit filed against a provider of alcohol for overserving a patron who then went out and injured someone is called a “dram shop case.” The name comes from a 1987 law known as the Texas Dram Shop Act (if you’re curious, the word dram traces to Scotland, where it refers to a small amount of whiskey). In the U.S., a dram shop is simply an establishment where alcohol is served.
The Dram Shop Act provides the only avenue through which an injured person can sue a bar or restaurant for continuing to serve someone who was already drunk. The Act allows an auto accident victim to obtain damages from the dram shop if he/she can prove the following:
- The alcohol seller knew or should have known that the patron was “obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others” and
- The patron’s intoxication was the cause of the subsequent car accident and the resulting injuries or fatalities.
How to Prove “Obvious Intoxication”
Most of these cases boil down to whether the injured person can prove that the driver who caused the wreck was already “obviously intoxicated” when he/she was served the additional drinks. The victim’s personal injury lawyer can use several forms of evidence to establish this crucial element, including:
- Testimony from others who were at the bar/restaurant who saw the person’s behavior at the establishment and before they got behind the wheel.
- Receipts or credit card statements showing how much alcohol was purchased and when.
- Police reports from the crash scene describing slurred speech, the smell of alcohol and other signs of intoxication.
An Example Scenario
Imagine that Jim arrives at The Bar after already drinking heavily elsewhere. The Bar’s server sells Jim some more drinks. Jim consumes them and then decides to drive home. On the way, Jim runs a red light and smashes into another car, injuring Kim.
The police arrive and give Jim a breathalyzer test, which he fails. Further investigation leads to several witnesses who say Jim was obviously drunk but was still being served at The Bar before he left to drive home.
At trial, the jury decides that Jim is 80% liable and The Bar is 20% liable. They award Kim $100,000. This means Jim must pay $80,000 and The Bar must pay $20,000.
You Need a Lawyer Who Understands Texas Dram Shop Laws
If you were hurt by an intoxicated driver, the dram shop may be partially liable. These cases take additional investigation to determine if the Dram Shop Act applies, so working with an experienced Texas lawyer is important.