Dram Shop Act in Houston, Texas
Anyone who has been in a bar, whether you are a regular visitor or occasional, you will at times see people who have had too much to drink.
If you are the bartender it is a difficult decision to make.
Do you continue to serve the person or do you cut them off?
Did they drive here or come with their friends?
Most would agree that continuing to serve alcohol to someone who appears to be approaching intoxication is a bad idea.
Someone who is drunk could disrupt the atmosphere of the establishment and ruin an otherwise enjoyable time for other patrons.
They could also leave and get in their car and drive.
Car accidents caused by drunk drivers are often the result of over-consumption of alcohol at bars. Of the 1,300 alcohol related fatalities each year in Texas, a large percentage happen after 2:00 a.m. – the closing time for bars in this state.
Traditionally, Texas law did not provide for a claim or cause of action against a bar or restaurant that served too much alcohol to a customer that ended up causing an accident.
This was because the law was interpreted to place liability on the one who consumed the alcohol, not the server. It cannot be disputed that there are many, many car accidents caused by drunks leaving bars every night in Houston.
These drunks will often crash into a sober law-abiding citizen who is simply driving home. Recognizing this, the Texas legislature by statute has imposed liability on the booze providers in limited circumstances.
The Texas Dram Shop Act
The Texas Dram Shop Act imposes liability upon a “provider” of alcoholic beverages if at the time of the sale, it was apparent to the provider or the bartender that the individual being sold, served or provided with an alcoholic beverage was obviously intoxicated. It is important to investigate whether the policies of the club, restaurant, or bar were adequate to prevent over-serving of alcohol and whether the server and employee followed the rules.
Many events offer all-you-can-eat specials with self-service beer or wine stations that are unattended or improperly monitored by event staff. Other venues offer unlimited mixed liquor drinks for a low price. When food and beverage and entertainment establishments invite patrons to overindulge in cheap drinks they risk liability.To recover damages, in addition to proving the obvious intoxication, an injured car accident victim must show that the intoxication caused their injuries.
To be a provider, one must be selling the alcohol. Even if the elements are proven, the statute provides a “safe harbor” provision if the provider requires its employees to attend approved training programs.
The Texas Dramshop Act provides that a bar can be sued for serving alcohol to an individual who later is in a car accident if it can be show that:
- At the time the alcohol was served, it was apparent to the provider that the customer was obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others; and
- The intoxication of the customer was a proximate cause of the damages suffered by the accident victim.
Similar provisions are applicable when an adult over 21 serves a minor under the age of 18 without the burden to prove actual intoxication at the time the alcohol is served.
The law regarding Dram Shop Car Accident claims has changed in recent years especially in the area of proportionate responsibility. As a practical matter, this means that when a bar is sued by the victim of a DWI accident, the defendant can ask the jury to put most of the blame on the drunk driver thereby reducing the damages that the accident victim might be able to collect.
Car accidents involving drunk driving are an increasing problem throughout Houston and every place in the state. Liability of bars for over serving should be easier to prove as those establishments can control how much their customers are served and in effect make more money the drunker they become. Drunks are routinely charged with intoxication manslaughter for causing the deaths of innocent people.
If you or a loved one were injured by a drunk driver, you should seek the advice of a board certified car accident lawyer as soon as possible. It is important to gather information early and tie consumption to a specific bar, club, or restaurant so the establishment can’t blame over-serving the intoxicated driver on one of the servers or staff.
It may be necessary to serve the establishment with a spoliation letter to preserve critical evidence such as video surveillance footage depicting the times the patron entered and left the establishment.
Contact Michael P. Fleming and Associates, today to discuss your case. We offer a free consultation 713-221-6800.