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Texas Dram Shop Lawyers: Holding Bars & Restaurants Accountable

The Texas Dram Shop Lawyers at Tate Accident Law are here to help you or a loved one if you’ve been injured by a drunk driver. Our attorneys are here to answer your questions day and night. If you need an experienced dram shop attorney with proven results, you have come to the right place. We’ve been in practice for over 30 years and our dram shop attorneys handle cases across the state of Texas, whether you’re in Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Houston, Austin, Waco, San Antonio, Midland-Odessa, San Angelo, Sherman, Tyler or elsewhere. Below we answer some of the most common questions regarding Texas dram shop laws to help you navigate this complex topic.

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Are Bars or Restaurants Liable for Over-Serving Patrons?

In some cases, the answer is yes. Dram shop laws cover the area of law that pertains to the over-serving of alcohol. Although many states have such laws, they are not commonly used as a basis for legal action and hardly ever result in criminal charges, despite their potential. Most people are not familiar with this legal topic and the implications that it carries when a lawsuit is filed on these grounds. Texas has its own dram shop laws that protect individuals in the state who become victims of a drunk or intoxicated driver who was over-served at a liable establishment that serves alcoholic beverages to its patrons.

A “dram shop” is an old English term that refers to an establishment where alcohol is sold and consumed. Today, this term encompasses a wide range of businesses, including nightclubs, bars, restaurants. These businesses face numerous legal liabilities when alcohol is sold and served as part of their operations. Texas’ dram shop laws are specifically designed to safeguard against the over-serving or overconsumption of alcohol served to patrons.

Dram shop lawsuits can have severe consequences for businesses and individuals involved in the over-serving of alcohol. Establishments found liable for damages caused by intoxicated patrons may face significant financial penalties, loss of their liquor license, and damage to their reputation.

For individuals, such as bartenders and servers, being named in a dram shop lawsuit can result in job loss, personal financial liability, and potential criminal charges if the intoxicated individual caused serious harm or death.

What are the Dram Shop Laws in Texas?

In response to the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark case El Chico v. Poole (1987), which allowed injury victims of a drunk driver to seek remedies from establishments serving alcohol to the intoxicated party, the Texas Legislature enacted the Texas Dram Shop Act.

The Act aimed to define the liability of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants and establish the criteria for when these establishments could be held liable for over-serving alcohol. The Texas Dram Shop Act provides an exclusive remedy against such businesses, effectively nullifying the El Chico v. Poole decision.

The primary purpose of the Texas Dram Shop Act is to protect against criminal involvement in alcohol trafficking and it establishes an exclusive remedy for civil liability concerning the actions of intoxicated customers, members, or guests of establishments serving alcohol. According to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §2.01, a person licensed to sell or serve alcohol in Texas (a “provider”) can be held liable for damages if it’s evident that the individual served alcohol was dangerously intoxicated, posing a threat to themselves and others. Evidence must demonstrate that the person was clearly intoxicated when served alcohol, and their inebriation was a proximate cause of the injuries, losses, and damages suffered due to their actions.

How does Exclusive Remedy Apply to Dram Shop Cases?

Dram shop lawsuits serve as the exclusive remedy for victims seeking compensation for injuries and losses resulting from the over-serving of alcoholic beverages. This specific law is the only cause of action that can be used for alcohol-related injuries. Other claims, such as gross negligence or premises liability, do not apply when dram shop laws or over-service of alcohol form the basis of a lawsuit.

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What is the Safe Harbor Defense?

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The Safe Harbor Defense protects establishments that serve alcohol. To obtain protection under the Safe Harbor Defense in Texas courts, businesses must meet three criteria:

a.  Require employees to attend a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission or (TABC)-approved training program for sellers;

b.  Provide evidence that employees completed a TABC-approved training program; and

c.  Ensure that the establishment or employer did not directly or indirectly encourage employees, bartenders, or servers to violate laws regarding over-serving or distributing alcoholic beverages.

To achieve safe harbor from civil liabilities related to over-serving alcohol, defendant establishments involved in a dram shop lawsuit must prove that the implicated employees attended a TABC-approved seller training course.

Can a Bartender or Server Be Held Personally Liable in a Dram Shop Lawsuit?

Yes, bartenders and servers can be held personally liable if they are found to have knowingly over-served a patron who later caused harm to themselves or others.

Can Individuals or Social Hosts be Sued Under Texas Dram Shop Laws?

Section 2.01 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code contains a provision, often referred to as the “social host liability”:

(1) “Provider” means a person who sells or serves an alcoholic beverage under authority of a license or permit issued under the terms of this code or who otherwise sells an alcoholic beverage to an individual.

To meet the definition of an alcohol “provider,” the alcohol must be sold. This typically excludes “social hosts,” or individuals who have guests, gatherings, or parties in their homes. Unless these social hosts charge for the alcohol served to their guests in some manner, the law does not apply to them

To sue a responsible party, they do not have to be operating under the authority of a license or permit. The crucial aspect of the definition in such cases is that the responsible party sold alcohol in some manner, directly or indirectly.

There are exceptions to the protections that social hosts have when serving alcohol, and they mainly relate to minors.

How Does the Texas Dram Shop Act Apply to Minors?

The legal drinking age in Texas is 21. The Texas Dram Shop Act defines a “minor” as anyone under the age of 21, even though 18 is typically considered the legal age of adulthood in most capacities. Sellers distributing alcohol to minors can be held liable under the law unless the minor presents a seemingly valid ID falsely indicating they are 21 or older.

Although Section 2.01 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code limits “social host liability,” the social host liability law (Section 2.02) states that adult providers of alcohol (people 21 years of age or older), including bars, can be held liable for accidents and related damages or losses caused by an intoxicated minor if:

  1. The minor is under the age of 18 years old;
  1. The provider of the alcohol is not the minor’s parent, custodian, or spouse; and

  2.  The alcohol provider knowingly a) served the minor alcohol that contributed to the minor’s intoxication or b) allowed the minor to be provided with alcohol that contributed to the minor’s intoxication and did so on the provider’s premises.
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It is worth nothing that the premises in this case can be leased or owned. And it is also important to know that the Texas dram shop law makes the age cutoff for minors 18 and not 21. Even though the legal drinking age is 21. Texas dram shop law treats 18–20-year-olds as adults who can legally purchase alcohol, even though in instances other than dram shop cases, 18-20-year-can are not legally permitted to buy or consume alcohol. This discrepancy is an important exception in dram shop cases.

For example, suppose 17-year-old Sam attends a Super Bowl party at a family friend’s house. The friend’s father, Ted, provides alcoholic beverages for guests and is aware that Sam is consuming alcohol but chooses not to intervene. Intoxicated, Sam leaves the party and starts to drive home. On his way he fails to stop at an intersection stop sign and collides with a pedestrian (Tammy) who is out jogging. Tammy can pursue a claim for damages against Sam for causing the collision and Ted for knowingly serving alcohol to a minor at his house.

Any exception that defendants might have in dram shop cases that do not involve a minor are not permitted or allowed for adults who serve minors when those minors do damage to themselves or others.

These exceptions include:

  1. The exception of being a “social host”: a social host can be held liable even if they didn’t sell the minor any alcohol.

  2. Safe Harbor Defense is disallowed even if the provider of the alcohol has met the requirements of TABC.

  3.  The defense regarding a minor not being “obviously intoxicated” cannot be used. All that needs to be evident is that alcohol was known to be consumed and that this was the proximate cause of injuries and damages.

If Bars Are Prohibited from Over-serving, Then Why Do They Do It So Much?

When a bar or restaurant applies for and receives a liquor license, they are granted a privilege to serve alcohol for profit.  They are fully aware that the license requires that they not serve obviously intoxicated people and, if they do, they risk losing that license.  They are also fully aware that if they serve an obviously intoxicated person who then gets into a wreck and hurts or kills others, they can be held liable for that wreck.  Even though they are fully aware, many bars over-serve anyway. The primary motivation is profit. They ignore the law to make money.

Retail sales of alcohol in 2015 in Texas exceeded $5.8 billion according to the Houston Chronicle. There is a huge financial incentive to sell large amounts of alcohol. Servers are trained to push alcoholic beverages because they make money for the business and the servers, who are motivated to upsell to increase their tips.

How Big Is the Drunk Driving Problem in Texas?

In 2018, Texas led the nation in DUI fatalities. This leads to the second reason Texas law allows anyone to sue the bar for injuries or wrongful death: Public Policy. There are real life consequences to bars and restaurants turning drunks out on the roads.  Thousands of people die and are horribly injured every year.

What Can a Texas Dram Shop Lawyer Do for You if You’ve Been Injured?

The fact is that bars and restaurants who serve obviously intoxicated patrons should be held accountable if those patrons drive away and cause injury or death to others.

A dram shop lawyer can help you do the following if you were injured by a drunk driver:

  1. Quickly begin a thorough investigation or yours or a loved one’s accident
  2. Gather and preserve evidence for your injury case. This might include:
    • The police report for your accident
    • Traffic camera or security camera footage
    • Cell phone data
    • Social media posts or information
    • Evidence at the scene such as skid marks, stains, broken glass, burn marks and gouges
    • Details regarding the defendants’ past records
    • Accident reconstruction
    • Information about all your losses
    • Data from doctors and surgeons, including scans, x-rays, prognoses and opinions
    • Details obtained from automobile electronics
    • Photos of the vehicles, the accident scene, and injuries
    • Details about lost property, namely the contents of your vehicle
    • Recorded interviews with witnesses
  1. Help you seek all forms of compensation, including recovery for:
    • Medical and hospital expenses
    • Lost wages because you could not work
    • Future earnings potential
    • Pain and suffering
    • Mental trauma, anxiety, PTSD, depression
    • Emotional distress
    • Loss of consortium
    • Loss of companionship
    • Loss of enjoyment of life
    • Scars and disfigurement
    • The cost of making your home accessible after injuries
    • Transportation expenses
    • Rehabilitation and therapy
    • Drugs and medical equipment
    • The cost of any property damage due to the accident
    • Expenses for required services such as childcare
    • Any other form of recovery possible.
  1. Help you get qualified medical care
  2. Make sure all legal filings and documents are completed and timelines are met
  3. Help you navigate the complications of insurance coverages
  4. Communicate on your behalf
  5. File a lawsuit if negotiations do not lead to a fair settlement

  6. Hire and find expert witnesses to build a compelling case in court. Some examples are:
    • Surgeons and doctors
    • Economic experts to validate past, present and future losses
    • Therapist and rehabilitative specialists
    • Accident reconstructionist to verify the accident circumstances
    • Engineers to examine mechanical aspect of automobiles
    • Career counsellors to determine future earnings
    • Transportation experts
  1. Guide you through depositions
  2. Cover all court costs and legal expenses
  3. Provide a strategy designed to obtain a jury award to you for the maximum amount possible for your injuries
  4. Fight hard to protect your rights and interests
  5. Be here day and night to answer your question and give you guidance
  6. Help you after you case concludes if you need further information, assistance, or legal advice

We aim to forge lifetime relationships with our clients. We are a family-owned law firm. And we want you to feel like family, too.

If you or your loved one has been in a wreck and wants to find out more about their options and our firm, please call the dram shop lawyers at Tate Accident Law for a free consultation 24/7 at (972)433-6113.

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Why Do You Need a Texas Dram Shop Lawyer?

Dram shop cases are complex legal situations that require considerable time to investigate. The sooner you enlist a Texas dram shop lawyer, the more likely you are to obtain optimal compensation for your injuries and losses. Given complications involved in dram shop cases, convincing a jury will not come without significant resources in most cases. Expenses for such cases can exceed tens of thousands of dollars. Most individuals cannot cover these costs on their own. Our firm not only covers these costs, but we also work for you on a contingency basis, meaning, we obtain a settlement or jury award, or you pay no legal fees.  Dram shop cases are multifaceted cases which can involve multiple parties and require significant investigation. To cover all aspects of your case in a timely, effective manner you need an experienced team of people working with you to pursue a dram shop claim.

If you feel you or a loved one might have a Texas dram shop case and have suffered injuries as a victim of a drunk driving, DWI, DUI accident, please do not hesitate to contact the dram shop lawyers at Tate Accident Law now via call or text at (972)433-6113 or use the chat feature or contact forms to tell us about your dram shop case.

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