Alcohol is a primary contributing factor in about a third of the car crashes that occur on South Central Texas roadways. In the vast majority of these incidents, the tortfeasors (negligent drivers) obtained the alcohol outside their homes, from either a commercial provider like a bar or restaurant or at a social gathering with friends and family.
Third-party liability is often an issue in these cases, and such actions are important for at least two reasons. First, they create an additional source of damages, a significant feature given the large number of uninsured and uninsured drivers in Texas. Perhaps more importantly, however, a third-party liability action sends a message to alcohol providers that there are strict rules to observe when serving or providing this potentially dangerous substance. If these rules are not strictly followed, there may be serious consequences.
Texas has one of the stiffest dram shop laws in the country. This provision, which gets its name from an out-of-date term for a saloon or bar, holds these and other commercial establishments liable for the damages their intoxicated patrons cause.
To establish dram shop liability, the plaintiff must show:
- Illegal sale: In Texas, it is illegal to sell alcohol to a minor under 21 or any person that is visibly intoxicated. Signs of intoxication include bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, and slurred speech.
- Caused or contributed to intoxication: It is sufficient to show that the tortfeasor had a drink at a bar in the hours before the wreck occurred. In fact, given the low standard of proof in a civil case, it is probably sufficient to show that the tortfeasor visited a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol. Based on such evidence, the jury can conclude that, more likely than not, the tortfeasor had at least one drink.
In defense of their actions, these establishments often invoke the “safe harbor” defense found in the Alcoholic Beverage Code, but that defense only applies in limited situations.
Texas does not have a social host liability law, but these individuals may still be responsible for damages, in some cases. Courts may allow a negligent undertaking cause of action in these circumstances. The plaintiff must show that the defendant voluntarily assumed a duty and then failed to fulfill that duty. For example, a party host may declare that anyone who has been drinking must get a ride home or stay the night, and then allow guests to drive home anyway.
Alcohol-related crashes are often much more complex than they appear to be at first blush. For a free consultation with an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney, contact our office. We routinely handle cases in Comal County, Guadalupe County, and nearby jurisdictions.