Can a Bar Be Held Liable for a Drunk Driver Accident?

March 28, 2022 Vehicle Wrecks

In Texas, you have the right to sue someone through a personal injury claim if they were driving drunk at the time of an accident. However, there may be others who are responsible for the accident that can also be held liable. You may also be able to hold the bar or restaurant that served the intoxicated driver liable in a type of legal action called a dram shop claim.

The state of Texas has laws that cover overserving an individual at a bar or at a private party under certain circumstances. Here’s a look at how a bar can be held liable for a drunk driving accident with the help of a Houston drunk driver accident lawyer.

Understanding Texas Dram Shop Law

Texas has a set of laws known as the Alcoholic Beverage Code. Title 1 Chapter 2 of the code covers the actions that can cause someone to file a personal injury claim against a bar or restaurant for overserving someone who then goes on to get into a DUI-related accident. A dram shop is the technical name of an establishment that is licensed to serve and/or sell alcohol to the public at large. The establishment and person(s) serving alcohol can be held liable when:

  • It’s apparent that the person they served, sold to, or otherwise provided an alcoholic drink was clearly intoxicated at the time and a clear danger to himself and others, and
  • The intoxicated recipient of an alcoholic drink caused an accident that resulted in harm to others.

If it’s discovered that the drunk driver that caused an accident was overserved by a dram shop, the victim or their family can sue for damages. However, if you’re considering taking legal action for compensation, you should talk to a Houston car accident lawyer to learn more about pursuing your case.

When the Social Host Liability Law Applies

The Social Host Law is designed to protect private individuals’ rights to host parties in their own homes and serve alcohol to their guests without fear of a lawsuit. Dram shop laws don’t apply to private hosts except when an accident is caused by someone under the age of 18 who was served at a private party. Someone who overserves a minor, who is 18 or younger, and does it knowingly can be held liable for the ensuing accident.

A person who was injured in an accident caused by a minor who was overserved at a private party can sue the host if they’re over 21 and provided alcohol to a minor. Parents and guardians are exempt from the social host law.

Recognizing the Signs of Intoxication and the Consequences of Ignoring Them

Operators and employees of establishments that serve alcohol are trained to recognize the signs of intoxication. Staff that handle alcohol sales are taught how to avoid sales to intoxicated individuals as they learn how to make and serve drinks. The management staff are expected to support the staff when it comes to cutting off an inebriated customer or not serving them at all. Recognizing these signs is an important part of their duties, and they are ignored at peril to the establishment.

An inebriated customer who has had too many drinks typically exhibits behaviors that tell the staff that they should cut off the customer. All the staff are made aware that the customer shouldn’t be served further. Anyone who ignores the behavior or the order to not serve the customer further can cause the establishment to be held liable in the event the customer leaves and gets into an accident involving a DUI.

Who Can Sue After an Accident Involving a Drunk Driver?

After an accident involving a DUI, the injured party can sue the drunk driver for damages related to the accident. Families who have lost a loved one in an accident involving a drunk driver can also sue for wrongful death under the Texas Dram Shop laws. The three eligible types of family members include:

  • Spouses, including informal marriages (sometimes referred to as “common law marriages”)
  • Parents, including biological and adoptive, but not step-parents
  • Children, including adopted children, but not stepchildren, or those who can’t prove their relation to the deceased.

Types of Damages Included in a Texas Dram Shop Claim

An auto accident with a drunk driver typically results in unexpected expenses that can take away the income you need to maintain your lifestyle. When you left your home, you had no idea that you were going to get into an accident of any sort, much less with a drunk driver, and you had no expectation that you would have serious bills to pay. Filing a lawsuit against the driver and the dram shop allows you to ask for compensation to cover these expenses because you gained them through no fault of your own. (In addition to these potential claims against third parties, you may have your own “first-party insurance coverage” to help compensation you for your injuries, e.g. uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.

The types of damages you can ask for in a dram shop claim include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include financial losses you suffered after the accident, and include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Vehicle repair or replacement costs, also known as property damage.

Non-economic damages are damages that don’t have a fixed monetary value but are costly all the same. They include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship and/or consortium
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Disfigurement.

You can also sue for punitive damages against the drunk driver. Punitive damages are allowed in addition to the economic and non-economic damages you suffered from the accident. Under Texas state law, someone who has acted with extreme recklessness and caused injury or death to another person is liable for punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Dram Shop Claim in Texas

The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim against a dram shop is typically two years from the date of the accident. If you don’t file a dram shop claim by the statute of limitations, you permanently lose your opportunity to ask the court to hear your case and issue a judgment. The statute of limitations is a major reason why it’s a good idea to contact a Houston car accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident. You don’t risk running out the clock when you have a lawyer working on a claim on your behalf. *Always speak directly to an attorney for the exact deadlines that apply to your specific claim(s).

How We Can Help You in a Dram Shop Claim

Have you been the victim of a drunk driver, or have you lost a loved one to a drunk driver and need help? Contact the law office of Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law to speak to an attorney about your case. We’re here to provide you with the legal support you need during a difficult time. Call us now at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000 today to set up a free consultation to learn more about your options.

Attorney Terry Bryant

Attorney Terry BryantTerry Bryant is Board Certified in personal injury trial law, which means his extensive knowledge of the law has been recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, setting him apart from many other injury attorneys. The 22 years he spent as a Municipal Judge, Spring Valley Village, TX also provides him keen insight into the Texas court system. That experience also helps shape his perspective on personal injury cases and how they might resolve. This unique insight benefits his clients. [ Attorney Bio ]

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