Drunk Driving Accident: Common Liability Questions

Can bars be liable for a drunk driving accident?

They might be depending on the circumstances.

According to Texas’ Alcoholic Beverage Code, Section 2.02,

“Sec. 2.02.  CAUSES OF ACTION.  (a)  This chapter does not affect the right of any person to bring a common law cause of action against any individual whose consumption of an alcoholic beverage allegedly resulted in causing the person bringing the suit to suffer personal injury or property damage.

(b)  Providing, selling, or serving an alcoholic beverage may be made the basis of a statutory cause of action under this chapter and may be made the basis of a revocation proceeding under Section 6.01(b) of this code upon proof that:

(1)  at the time the provision occurred it was apparent to the provider that the individual being sold, served, or provided with an alcoholic beverage was obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others;  and

(2)  the intoxication of the recipient of the alcoholic beverage was a proximate cause of the damages suffered.

(c)  An adult 21 years of age or older is liable for damages proximately caused by the intoxication of a minor under the age of 18 if:

(1)  the adult is not:

(A)  the minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse; or

(B)  an adult in whose custody the minor has been committed by a court; and

(2)  the adult knowingly:

(A)  served or provided to the minor any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication; or

(B)  allowed the minor to be served or provided any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication on the premises owned or leased by the adult.”

Tex. Alco. Bev Code § 2.02

This law is known as the “dram shop” law. 

Under Texas’ dram shop law, a lawsuit may be brought against an establishment for providing, selling or serving alcohol to someone IF that person was obviously intoxicated to the point where they were a clear danger to themselves or others.  In other words, a bar, night club, restaurant, etc. can be held liable for over serving an intoxicated person.  

In order to sue a bar or restaurant for over service of alcohol, a few things are required.  First, the bar must have served alcohol to a person when that person was obviously intoxicated and appeared to be a danger to themselves or others.  Secondly, intoxication of the person must have been the proximate cause of the resulting accident where injuries or death occurred.  For instance, if a driver is drunk and loses control of the vehicle and crashes into a tree or another car, their intoxication is the direct cause of the accident; however if there is another cause to the accident that is not directly related to the driver’s intoxication, then the dram shop law does not apply.

Consider the following example:

If someone goes to a bar and orders one drink and they are not obviously drunk, the bar will likely serve them.  They may later try to order more drinks.  If at any point they become obviously drunk to a point where they could be perceived to be a danger to someone, then the bar should refuse service.  If the bar continues to serve them after they are obviously intoxicated and that person later gets into a drunk driving accident where someone is injured, then the injured may be able to sue the bar under the dram shop laws.

What is obviously intoxicated? How do you prove someone is intoxicated and they should be refused service?

One common question is what if the proof needed to show that someone is obviously intoxicated.  In these cases, a variety of evidence can be used to prove or show that someone was intoxicated at the time of service.  Examples of proof include:

  • Video footage from a bar of the intoxicated person stumbling, slurring words, etc.
  • Witness testimony regarding behavior changes, smell of alcohol on breath, number of drinks they had
  • Bar receipts and point of sale records showing how many drinks were ordered and when they were ordered.  
  • Police officer testimony regarding signs of drunk driving, behavior, etc.
  • Expert testimony regarding the effects of the number of drinks, Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) calculations and behavior associated with their BAC
  • Social media evidence, such as video posts, showing the intoxicated person at the bar

Who can sue the bar or nightclub in drunk driving accidents?

In the example above, the drunk driver can sue the bar themselves but other individuals are able to sue for injuries as well.  You may have a case if you were a:

  • passenger in a car with a intoxicated driver
  • driver or passenger in another vehicle hit by a intoxicated driver
  • pedestrian hit by a intoxicated driver

Basically, if you or someone you know were injured in a drunk driving accident and believe the intoxicated driver may have been over served at a bar or nightclub, then you should speak with a lawyer to see if you have a case. 

What type of injuries are common in a dram shop case?

Drunk driving accidents can cause a variety of bodily injuries (LINK) that are very serious.  These injuries can include:

Our attorneys can help you with your personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

In the most serious cases, drunk driving accidents result in death.  In this case, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by a loved one of the deceased.  

If you have any questions or think you may have a case, contact us at 214-575-6060 for a free consultation.