Texas' Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability

If you’re injured in Texas by someone who’s drunk, can you sue a third party who provided them with alcohol?

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Say you're on your way home one evening. A drunk driver runs a stop sign and hits your car broadside, causing you serious injuries. In Texas, as in every state, you can bring a personal injury claim to recover compensation for the drunk driver's negligence. But what if the drunk driver is uninsured or underinsured? If you don't have the right auto insurance coverage, do you have any other options?

The short answer is: Maybe so. Under Texas law, you might be able to sue whoever provided the drunk driver with alcohol. We start with a brief background on dram shop laws and social host liability. From there, we'll walk you through the specifics of Texas law.

Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Generally

Under early American law, bar and tavern owners weren't legally responsible for injuries caused by their drunk customers. It wasn't the bar owner's fault, the thinking went, that someone chose to drink, got drunk, and caused an accident. The blame rested with the person who did the drinking.

States began to change their laws in the mid-20th century, when auto accidents started leaving more and more victims with serious injuries but nowhere to turn for compensation. Drunk drivers, it turned out, often didn't have auto insurance. The result was state dram shop and social host liability laws.

Dram Shop Laws

Long ago, bars and taverns were called "dram shops" because they sold liquor by a measurement called a "dram." Today, dram shop laws usually refer to statutes that impose legal liability on state-licensed sellers of alcohol.

Most states have some form of dram shop law in effect, though the scope of coverage varies widely. In some states, the law only applies to business establishments that sell liquor for consumption on the premises—bars, restaurants, and the like. In others, it applies to all liquor sellers.

Social Host Liability

Social host liability refers to the legal responsibility of a private party host who supplies alcohol to a guest, who then causes an accident resulting in injuries. A typical social host liability law makes an adult who serves alcohol to a minor responsible when the minor then causes an accident. Here too, the scope of coverage can vary considerably from one state to the next.

Texas Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Law

Chapter 2 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code covers both dram shop and social host liability.

Dram Shop Liability

Texas' dram shop law applies to anyone who:

  • has a license or permit to sell or serve alcohol (a "licensee"), or
  • sells alcohol to another person (a "seller").

(Tex. Alc. Bev. Code § 2.01 (2023).)

A licensee or a seller can be held liable for damages caused by an intoxicated person if:

  • it was apparent that the person was "obviously intoxicated," so much so that the person presented a "clear danger to himself and others," and
  • the person's intoxication caused someone else to suffer damages.

(Tex. Alc. Bev. Code § 2.02(b) (2023).)

Social Host Liability

Under Texas law, a social host is someone who provides alcoholic beverages to others without charge. Texas social hosts aren't legally responsible for the acts of their adult (18 years old or older) guests.

Texas' social host law makes an adult who's at least 21 years old responsible for damages caused by a minor (under 18 years old) if:

  • the adult isn't the minor's parent, guardian or spouse, or a person who's been granted custody of the minor by a court, and
  • the adult knowingly served or provided to the minor any alcohol that contributed to the minor's intoxication, or
  • the adult knowingly allowed the minor to be provided with or served alcohol that contributed to the minor's intoxication while on property the adult owned or leased.

(Tex. Alc. Bev. Code § 2.02(c) (2023).)

Damages and Time Limits Under Texas Law

A dram shop or social host liability claim in Texas is a civil case, meaning an action that seeks to recover only money damages. Some common types of damages in alcohol-related accident claims include:

  • medical bills
  • lost wages, including lost earning capacity from partial or total disability caused by the accident
  • compensation for lost or damaged property
  • emotional distress, and
  • pain and suffering.

Like other injury claims, a Texas dram shop or social host liability lawsuit must be filed in court within a deadline known as a "statute of limitations." As a general rule, the statute of limitations on a dram shop or social host liability case is two years from the date of injury. (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003(a) (2023).) If the injuries result in death, the suit must be filed within two years from the date of death. (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003(b) (2023).)

Get Help With Your Claim

Texas dram shop and social host liability claims can be legally complicated and difficult to prove. They're not the kinds of cases you want to handle on your own. You need experienced legal counsel to help uncover the facts to prove your case and to give you the best chance of success. You only get one opportunity to make your case, so make it count.

If you're ready to move forward, here's how to find an attorney in your area who's right for you and your case.

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