Officers nearly always ask this question of intoxicated motorists who cause a car crash. The answer can lead the attorney to the correct third party liability theory.
For various reasons, it is extremely difficult, though not impossible, to link a retail alcohol sale to a subsequent intoxication episode. However, if the driver’s most recent stop was at a bar or restaurant, there is a very good chance that the person was already intoxicated at that time, and the server may be liable for damages under the dram shop law. There is a third possibility. Like most states, Texas has a social host liability law.
Section 2.02 is very straightforward in this regard. An adult over 21 is legally responsible for damages proximately caused by an intoxicated minor under 18 if that adult:
- Provided any alcoholic beverage that contributed to the minor’s intoxication; or
- Allowed minors to be served, and the service contributed to intoxication.
It is a defense if the adult was the minors’ parent, legal guardian, or other lawful custodian.
The statute, however, is incredibly broad. If Minor has one half of one beer at Party 1, then has another drink or two at Party 2, the adult host of Party 1, or the adult that owned the premises, may be held liable for damages sustained in a subsequent car wreck.
For persons over 18, social host liability is a standard negligence question, and courts use a “reasonable person” standard to determine legal duty. Consider the following three scenarios:
- Host arranges to have Uber drivers pick up intoxicated guests.
- Despite a superficial question like “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” Host does nothing to actively discourage intoxicated guests from driving.
- Host asks an intoxicated guest to go to the store and buy more ice, and provides car keys.
In the first example, the host seems to have went above and beyond the reasonable person standard and is probably not liable. In the third, the host’s behavior arguably borders on criminal negligence. The second hypothetical is in a gray area.
In the case of both adults and minors, a plaintiff in a negligent car crash case may obtain compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages may also be available, in some situations. Texas is a modified joint and several liability state, meaning that damages are typically apportioned between defendants depending on their degree of culpability.
For a free consultation in this matter, contact an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney. Home and hospital visits are available.