Going Through the Door?
Generally speaking, Texas laws regarding alcohol provider liability when it pertains to alcohol-related car crashes is slanted in favor of defendants. The Lone Star State did not even have a dram shop liability law until the 1980s while many other states have had similar laws on the books for nearly a century. The same is true for social host liability. Since 1993, Texas courts have consistently refused to impose liability on social hosts. But a case from the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston may have opened a back door in these matters.
The dispute in Plunkett v. Nall began at a New Years’ Eve party in 2007. The defendants had a plan in place to discourage drunken driving: they set a rule that all guests remaining at midnight who had consumed alcohol must stay the night at their home. But they did not enforce this rule by confiscating keys or taking any similar measures. So, an “inebriated” guest and his “female friend” tried to leave the party at about 2:00 a.m. While the plaintiff stood on the running board and tried to remove the keys from the ignition, the driver suddenly accelerated; the plaintiff was thrown off of the SUV and injured.
At trial, the plaintiff alleged negligent undertaking. Essentially, this tort involves the breach of a duty that the defendant created through his or her conduct. The plaintiff acknowledged that there is no social host liability in Texas, but nonetheless claimed that the defendant was negligent because of the unenforced rule about staying overnight.
The Court of Appeals agreed and granted summary judgment. The Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision on technical grounds, but left the door open for social host liability via negligent undertaking.
In addition to formal rules about drinking and driving, an informal dissuasion may be enough to establish negligent undertaking. For example, if the host says “are you sure you’re okay to drive” or “do you want me to get you an Uber,” the host has arguably created a duty to stop guests from driving while intoxicated.
As always, victims in these cases are typically entitled to compensation for both their economic and non-economic damages. In many third party liability cases, punitive damages are also available.
The negligent driver is usually not the only person responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries. For prompt assistance in this area, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in New Braunfels. An attorney can arrange for you to see a doctor, even if you have no money and no insurance.