In one of his many songs about alcoholism, Austin singer Junior Brown once lamented that “when I see those party lights come on, the party’s over for me.” And, during this time of year, the “man in that patrol car who don’t wanna party with me” is out in force, seeking to avoid alcohol-related car crashes before they start.
Despite a seemingly-endless police crackdown, the number of fatal alcohol-related vehicle wrecks remains alarmingly high. In 2013, over 10,000 Americans died in such collisions, resulting in an annual cost of $59 billion. Texas tort law allows victims to attack the problem at one of its sources, which is the people who negligently overserve guests at holiday parties and everyday gatherings. While the Texas Supreme Court has consistently refused to hold social hosts liable for the damages that their intoxicated guests inflict, two back doors are wide open.
Dram Shop Law
Although this provision normally applies only to commercial alcohol sales, the Legislature made some important amendments in 2005. Section 2.02 explicitly makes social hosts liable for the actions of their intoxicated guests if the tortfeasor (negligent person) was under 18.
In terms of evidence, the same standard applies. The plaintiff must only prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the social host “contributed to” the tortfeasor’s alcohol impairment.
Essentially, this theory involves the voluntary assumption of a duty and the failure to follow through on that course of action. One example is a Good Samaritan who sees a car wreck victim, begins to administer aid and then suddenly quits, thereby making the situation worse.
In a recent case from the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, a New Year’s Eve party host made a rule that, for safety reasons, any intoxicated guests must remain overnight. The host did not stop an inebriated guest from leaving, and that motorist subsequently caused a car crash. The Court of Appeals upheld the action as a way to bypass the “no social host liability” rule; the Texas Supreme Court later reversed that ruling on procedural grounds and said nothing about the substantive elements.
Arguably, any host who makes a similar rule or says something like “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” may be subject to a negligent undertaking lawsuit.
The tortfeasor may not be the only person responsible for your damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New Braunfels, contact our office. You have a limited amount of time to act.