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

April 3, 2023 Vehicle Wrecks

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

Can a bar be held liable for a drunk driving accident in Texas? Texas has laws covering over-serving individuals at a bar or a private party under certain circumstances. Here’s a look at how a bar could be liable for a drunk driving accident with the help of a Houston drunk driving accident lawyer.

Reach out to our experienced staff at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law. When you call us at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free (800) 444-5000, we’ll help you understand your rights under Texas law and how we can help.

Understanding Texas Law

Can a bar be held liable for a drunk driving accident in Texas? 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 claim against a restaurant or bar for over-serving someone who then gets into a DUI-related accident. A dram shop is the technical name of an establishment that is licensed to serve and sell alcohol to the public at large.

Are bars liable for drunk drivers? When an establishment and person(s) serving alcohol violate the Alcoholic Beverage Code, they could be liable.

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

If you or the authorities discover that the drunk driver that caused an accident was over-served by a dram shop, the victim or their family can sue for damages. However, if you’re considering taking legal action for compensation, talk to a Houston car accident lawyer to learn more about pursuing your case. At Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, we’re here to help you understand the law. Call us now at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free (800) 444-5000 today to learn more about your options.

When the Social Host Liability Law Applies

The Social Host Law protects private individuals’ rights to host parties in their homes and serves 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 over-serves a minor, 18 or younger, and does it knowingly can be liable for the accident.

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

Recognizing the Signs of Intoxication

Operators and employees of establishments should recognize the signs of intoxication. Staff that handles alcohol sales should know how to avoid sales to intoxicated individuals as they learn how to make and serve drinks. Likewise, the management staff should support the team when cutting off a drunk customer. Recognizing these signs is an essential part of their duties, and they are ignored at peril to the establishment.

An intoxicated customer with too many drinks typically exhibits behaviors that cue the staff that it is time to stop serving him or her. All the team should know that the customer should be served only after some time has passed. Anyone who ignores the behavior or the order not to 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, not stepchildren or those who can’t prove their relation to the deceased.

Types of Damages

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 did not know that you would get into an accident, much less with a drunk driver, and you did not expect that you would have serious bills to pay.

Suing 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. Besides these potential claims against third parties, you may have your own “first-party insurance coverage” to help compensate you for your injuries with uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.

You can ask for damages in a claim, including economic and non-economic damages. Monetary 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 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.

What Are Other Possible Penalties in Texas?

Criminal penalties are imposed on drunk drivers. The penalty for a first offense DWI is a fine of up to $2,000, up to six months in jail, and the loss of one year’s driving privileges. In addition to prison time, fines, and license suspension, each subsequent conviction carries an increased penalty.

They may charge intoxicated drivers who cause accidents that injure someone with intoxication assault, a third-degree felony. That charge could be punishable by up to ten years in prison. The crime of intoxication manslaughter is also a second-degree felony punishable by a ten-year prison sentence. They can also charge intoxicated drivers who cause accidents that kill.

The driver who causes an accident while drunk is also responsible for compensating the victim(s) for their losses. In addition to high-speed crashes and head-on collisions, drunk driving can also cause other serious accidents. In drunk driving accidents, victims are injured seriously and catastrophically, incurring significant pain and suffering. The cost could quickly reach tens of thousands of dollars.

Death is the highest cost of drunk driving, however. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, some 1,761 Texas DUI crashes were reported in 2020, killing 1,988.

An individual’s loss of a loved one cannot be valued financially. The anguish experienced by surviving family members far exceeds the financial impact. The wrongful death claim can be used to recover compensation for the loss of a deceased relative, regardless of the amount of money that can be recovered.

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 accident date. If you don’t file a dram shop claim by the deadline imposed 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 significant reason to contact a Houston car accident lawyer as soon as possible after an accident. You don’t risk running out the clock when a lawyer is working on a claim on your behalf.

How We Help You in a Claim

Have you been the victim of a drunk driver, or have you lost a loved one to a drunk driver and need help? You must have lots of questions. Can a bar be held liable for a drunk driver? We help you understand the law and what your rights are. We also help you assess whether you have enough for your personal injury claim.

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 (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 ]

Table of Contents