Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents in Texas

In Texas, as in every state, if you are injured by an intoxicated person's negligence, you can bring a personal injury claim against that individual. But in some situations, your options for a legal remedy don't stop there. An injured person may also be able to bring a claim against the business (such as a bar or restaurant) or other third party that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person. These are known as "dram shop" claims.

In this article, we'll look at third party liability for an alcohol-related accident in New Hampshire, including the state's dram shop laws, and the rules that affect social hosts who provide alcohol at parties and other events.

Texas Dram Shop Law

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Chapter 2 contains the state's laws regarding both dram shop and social host liability. Vendors who sell alcohol may be held liable for an injury caused by a customer if:

  • the alcohol was sold or given to a minor under age 18, or
  • when the alcohol was sold, the customer was "obviously" intoxicated to the point that he or she posed "a clear danger" to the safety of self and others, and
  • the intoxication was a "proximate," or foreseeable, cause of the injuries suffered.

Here is an example of when Texas dram shop law might come into play:

Suppose that Dirk stops at Bennie's Bar on his way home from work. Dirk has several strong drinks, and although the bartender notices that Dirk has started having trouble speaking and walking, the bartender continues to serve Dirk. Eventually, Dirk tries to leave the bar, but he cannot navigate the bar's front steps safely. He falls and collides with Paul, knocking both of them down the front steps. Paul and Dirk are both injured in the fall.

Paul may seek compensation directly from Dirk for causing the accident through his own negligence. Paul may also be able to bring a dram shop claim against Bennie's Bar for serving alcohol to Dirk even after it became clear that Dirk could not walk without representing a danger to himself or others. Dirk may not bring a dram shop claim against the bar, since Texas law does not contain a provision for these "first party" claims.

If Dirk had been a minor under age 18, Paul would be able to bring a dram shop claim against the bar even if young Dirk had not been "obviously" intoxicated, as long as Dirk's actions were a foreseeable cause of Paul's injuries.

Social Host Liability in Texas

In addition to the dram shop law discussed above, which applies to alcohol vendors, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Chapter 2 includes a social host liability law. This law allows an injured person to seek damages from any host over age 21 who provides alcohol to a minor who is under age 18 if:

  • the adult is not the parent, guardian, legal custodian, or spouse of the minor, and
  • the adult knowingly served or provided an alcoholic beverage to the minor or allowed the minor to drink on any property owned by the adult.

For example, suppose that Debbie, a 17-year-old high school student, goes to her neighbor Hank's house for a barbecue party Hannah is throwing. During the party, Debbie has a few beers from the keg Hank has provided. Hank notices that Debbie is drinking the beer, but he doesn't say anything. A little while later, Debbie leaves the party and tries to drive to another friend's house, but she runs a stop sign and hits Penny, a pedestrian.

Penny may seek damages from Debbie for causing the accident. Penny may also choose to file a social host liability claim against Hank, who knew that Debbie was under 18 and who nevertheless allowed Debbie to drink on his property. If Hank had been Debbie's parent, guardian, or spouse, however, Penny would not be able to file a claim.

Damages and Time Limits in Texas Dram Shop Claims

A dram shop or social host liability claim in Texas is a civil lawsuit. The injured person (the plaintiff) files their case in court against the business or individual who provided the alcohol (the defendant), and if the defendant is deemed legally responsible for the plaintiff's injuries, that liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages.

Some common types of damages sought 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, and
  • pain and suffering.

Like other injury claims, a dram shop or social host liability claim must be filed in a Texas court within two years of the date of injury. This time limit is derived from a law known as a "statute of limitations." If you’re worried that the filing deadline is approaching, it may be time to contact an experienced Texas personal injury lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

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