The Texas Legislature is considering changes to the state’s dram shop liability law as it relates to alcohol-related car crashes and other personal injuries.
Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner recently introduced House Bill 409, which would require purveyors of alcoholic beverages to carry about 50 percent more insurance against the damages caused by their intoxicated patrons. Supporters claim that the proposal would decrease the number of alcohol-related crashes, because bars, restaurant, and hotels would use more caution when serving patrons. They also note that the additional insurance would mean added compensation for injury victims.
The House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee recently approved HB 409, and the full House is expected to take up the bill in the coming months.
Third Party Alcohol Liability
The state’s dram shop law is found in Chapter 2 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code. The dram shop law, named after an outdated term for a bar or saloon, is relatively new to Texas, as the hospitality industry successfully delayed its passage until 1987.
Not surprisingly, Chapter 2 is one of the narrowest dram shop laws in the country. Most states make dram shops strictly liable for all damages sustained. But in Texas, the seller is responsible only for the amount of damages in proportion to its fault. So, if the jury determines that the plaintiff’s damages were $100,000 and the dram shop was 20 percent responsible, the dram shop must pay $20,000.
Nevertheless, the dram shop law is quite important, especially in uninsured or underinsured motorist cases. To win a claim, a plaintiff must establish that the:
- Bar, restaurant, or other provider served a patron who was visibly intoxicated, and
- The illegal service caused the plaintiff’s damages.
To prove visible intoxication, the plaintiff must nearly always rely on circumstantial evidence, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, odor of alcohol, and unsteady balance. Other parts of the statute govern the service of minors.
Damages in a car crash case typically include compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages are also available, in some cases.
Intoxicated motorists cause serious crashes every day in South Central Texas. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New Braunfels, contact our office. Our main office is conveniently located about halfway between Austin and San Antonio.