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Can You Sue A Bar Or Restaurant If A Drunk Driver Hit You?

Houston dram shop lawyers explain legal options available to injury victims

Drunk driving accidents remain a serious problem in Texas. More than 38 percent of annual car accident fatalities in Texas involve drivers under the influence of alcohol, according to drunk driving accident statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And in 2020, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Texas hit a record high of 1,495 deaths.

If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident in Texas caused by a drunk driver, knowing what to do next can be overwhelming. There are so many legal issues and options you need to consider after your drunk driving accident. And one of them may include filing a lawsuit against a bar or restaurant that over-served the driver who caused your collision.

How does this legal process work in Texas? Is there anyone else you can take legal action against in response to your drunk driving accident? The short answer is you may be able to sue a bar or restaurant in Texas. But such legal cases can be very complicated. That’s why it’s critical that you understand the law and how it works when it comes to drunk driving accident claims or lawsuits.

Can I sue a bar or restaurant if a drunk driver caused my accident?

In certain situations, people injured in car accidents in Texas can file a lawsuit against a bar or restaurant if a drunk driver caused the collision. To do so, you need to meet legal standards outlined in Texas’ so-called “dram shop” laws.

In general, car accident injury victims must prove that a bar or restaurant sold alcohol to someone who was already clearly intoxicated and was an obvious danger to others, or to a minor. The person under the influence of alcohol then got in their vehicle and caused a drunk driving accident.

What is a dram shop? What is dram shop liability?

A “dram shop” is a business that sells alcohol. The term comes from an old expression used to describe a measurement of alcohol called a “dram” – which was one eighth of a fluid ounce. Dram shop laws can apply to bars, restaurants, nightclubs, liquor stores and any other business that sells alcohol.

Liability is a legal term used to describe who’s responsible for an injury. So dram shop liability simply means that a business that sells alcohol may be legally responsible for injuries sustained if they over-serve alcohol to someone who then causes an accident.

What is a Dram Shop Claim in Texas? infographic

This might sound straightforward. But proving that a bar, restaurant or another dram shop business sold alcohol to someone who was clearly intoxicated can be much harder than many people might realize. Businesses rarely admit to over-serving customers, and proving that someone was visibly intoxicated may require an in-depth investigation.

What are Texas’ dram shop liability laws?

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code states that a dram shop can be held liable (legally responsible) if it sold alcohol to an individual and “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.”

Evidence that someone was “obviously intoxicated” can cover a wide range, including:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor balance
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bloodshot eyes

The law also says that a dram shop can be held liable for selling or serving alcohol to a minor under the age of 18.

Who can file a dram shop lawsuit in Texas?

Anyone injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver can potentially file a dram shop lawsuit against the bar or restaurant that over-served the drunk driver. That includes motorists, passengers in another vehicle, pedestrians or cyclists hit by the drunk driver. It also includes passengers who rode in the car with the drunk driver.

If your loved one was killed by a drunk driver, you may be able to file a dram shop wrongful death lawsuit. Texas law allows the spouse, children, and parents of the victim to file a wrongful death claim. The executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate can also file the lawsuit after three months.

How do you prove a bar or restaurant sold alcohol to a drunk driver?

In order to file a successful dram shop claim or lawsuit, certain evidence must exist. An injured person filing a drunk driving accident lawsuit based on the Texas Dram Shop Act must prove:

  • The bar, restaurant, liquor store or another dram shop business sold alcohol to someone who was “obviously intoxicated,” or to a minor under age 18.
  • The intoxicated person caused a motor vehicle accident, and their intoxication was the proximate cause of the wreck.
  • The motor vehicle accident resulted in someone’s injury.

Some key evidence in such cases can include:

  • Breathalyzer test or other blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test results.
  • The official police accident report.
  • Receipts from the bar or restaurant showing that the intoxicated driver purchased alcohol.
  • Video footage, including security camera footage, which may show that the drunk driver was unsteady on their feet or otherwise appeared intoxicated.
  • Witnesses who may have heard the drunk driver slurring their words or otherwise appearing intoxicated.
  • Witnesses to the accident itself who testify that the drunk driver was going the wrong way or weaving between lanes.

What is the “Safe Harbor Defense” in dram shop law?

If you decide to file a dram shop injury lawsuit or claim against the business that sold alcohol to the drunk driver who caused your accident, don’t be surprised if the business cites Texas’ “Safe Harbor Defense” in defense of their actions.

In theory, the Safe Harbor Defense provision of the Texas Dram Shop Act protects bars, restaurants and other dram shop businesses from being held legally responsible (liable) for injuries caused by customers who purchased alcohol from their business. Businesses that cite the Safe Harbor Defense must prove that their business:

  • Requires employees who sell or serve alcohol to attend a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC)-approved “responsible server” training course.
  • Verified that employee completed the TABC-approved training course.
  • Does not actively encourage employees to disregard TABC training.

But an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer can challenge this defense, and judges and juries in Texas often side with the victims. This is where the right legal representation can make all the difference.

Can I sue anyone else for my drunk driving accident?

As with any other car accident, you can also sue the drunk driver who caused the crash directly. You can do this even if the drunk driver is not convicted of DWI in criminal court, since there is a lower standard of proof in civil cases.

There may be other individuals or businesses injury victims can take legal action against in some circumstances, such as a vehicle manufacturer. That’s why it’s important for drunk driving accident victims to talk to a Texas car accident attorney as soon as possible.

How can a Texas dram shop accident lawyer help?

As you can see from this page, drunk driving accident lawsuits filed against a business based on the Texas Dram Shop Act can be very complicated legal cases. And since injury victims may be awarded thousands of dollars or significantly more in a successful dram shop case, businesses and their insurance companies often hire teams of attorneys to contest these claims.

This is why injury victims need an experienced Texas Dram Shop lawyer on their side, fighting for their rights. A Houston drunk driving accident lawyer at Smith & Hassler, Attorneys at Law can work with you to build a strong Dram Shop claim or lawsuit designed to succeed. We’re familiar with Texas’ rules and regulations involving Dram Shop claims. That’s why we have such a strong track record of success in legal cases involving drunk driving accident injuries.

Discover what we can do for you. Contact our Houston law firm and schedule a free case evaluation with a Houston car accident attorney you can count on in a crisis. We have four offices conveniently located throughout Texas, including three offices in Houston. Our lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. That means you only have to pay us if we secure a financial settlement or verdict for you. It’s that simple.

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