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The Dram Shop Act is the part of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code that covers dram shops, which is a fancy name for any establishment in which alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed, such as a bar, club, or restaurant, and makes them liable for selling alcohol to people who are obviously intoxicated. A simple example is, if someone has been drinking at a bar and the establishment’s staff continues to sell them alcohol even after they are obviously inebriated, the establishment may be held liable if the inebriated patron injures someone in a traffic accident later that evening.
Texas dram shop law is a little bit different than most states, which mostly only require that the plaintiff show the business sold alcohol to an intoxicated person in order to establish strict liability for injuries. In Texas, dram shop liability does not include a guarantee that the establishment will be held strictly liable.
The owners of establishments licensed to sell alcohol can only be held liable for whatever proportion of responsibility a jury assigns to it. The jury must find that the dram shop is more than 50 percent responsible for the person’s injuries, and then the driver is held liable for whatever proportion of injury the jury determines they caused by choosing to drink and drive.
The dram shop laws in Texas stem from a landmark case brought in front of the Texas Supreme Court in 1987, El Chico v. Poole, in which the court imposed a duty on all servers of alcohol, asking them to not serve anyone who showed obvious signs of visible intoxication. About a week after that case was decided, the Texas legislature passed the Texas Dram Shop Act, which codified the responsibility of alcohol servers into the law. The law has been tightened up over the years, and requires that servers not serve alcohol to people who are “obviously intoxicated,” or to minors. Other provisions added later include protection for victims of drunk driving accidents in which a “social host” served minors, who subsequently caused an accident.
The purpose of dram shop laws is to keep establishments that serve alcohol in check and acting responsibly. Any establishment whose management believes that they are only doing their job by serving alcohol doesn’t understand the laws and regulations that cover serving alcohol in Texas, as well as the concept of comparative negligence. Because of dram shop laws, the state of Texas has essentially prohibited establishments from placing profits ahead of lives, because these establishments have the ability to exert more control over the situation and they sometimes do.
It’s sometimes difficult to establish liability under the Texas Dram Shop Act. In order to establish liability, it is necessary to establish proof of sale of alcohol to the patron, proof of injuries sustained by the patron or by a third-party, and that the alcohol sale and intoxication was a proximate cause of the damages sustained in the accident. In addition, there is also a clause within the Act that’s known as the Safe Harbor Defense, or Trained Server Defense, which protects establishments that serve alcohol from prosecution if they can prove they follow state guidelines with regard to serving their patrons. What that means is, under certain circumstances they may actually be exempt from a lawsuit. The requirements include establishing proof that all employees attend a state-approved seller training program and proof that the employer does not encourage employees, either directly or indirectly, to violate the law. Among the proof that such requirements were met can include documentation that details training and clear written policies regarding over serving patrons.
That’s a pretty big loophole, but those who try to use the Safe Harbor Defense in court will usually find this a tough road because most of the bars who are sued for dram shop liability are those that have repeatedly violated the rules, which tends to indicate that said establishments were somehow encouraging employees to break the rules, whether intentionally or not. That means a knowledgeable and experienced drunk driving accident attorney can usually present evidence that shoots down such claims.
If you or someone you love was injured or killed in a drunk driving accident, you deserve justice. The experienced Houston attorneys at Adame Garza LLP can analyze your unique situations and pursue justice and compensation from all responsible parties. Call us today for a free consultation to discuss your case.