Texas' Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability

When an intoxicated person injures someone else in Texas, can a third party be liable for providing the alcohol?

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

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

Texas Dram Shop Law

The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code contains the state’s dram shop and social host liability laws. The dram shop law applies to anyone who is licensed or permitted to serve alcohol or sells alcohol. The dram shop law says alcohol providers can be held liable for damages caused by the intoxicated patron if:

  • it was apparent to the provider that the patron was “obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others,” and
  • the intoxication of the patron was a proximate cause of the damages suffered.

For an example of how this 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 can’t navigate the bar's front steps safely. He falls and collides with and injures Paul. Paul could seek compensation from Dirk for negligence and from Bernie’s bar under the dram shop law.

Social Host Liability in Texas

The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code also contains a provision—we’ll call it the “social host liability law”—that applies to anyone (vendors and social hosts) who’s at least 21 years old and provides alcohol to a minor. The social host liability law says alcohol providers can be held liable for damages caused by the intoxicated minor if:

  • the minor is younger than 18 years old
  • the person providing the alcohol is not the minor’s parent or custodian, and
  • the provider knowingly serves the minor alcohol that contributes to the minor’s intoxication or allowed the minor to be served alcohol that contributed to the minor’s intoxication on the provider’s premises.

For example, suppose that Debbie, a 17-year-old high school student, goes to her neighbor Hank's house for a barbecue. 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 can seek damages from Debbie for causing the accident and from Hank under the social host liability law.

Damages and Time Limits in Texas Dram Shop Claims

A dram shop or social host liability claim in Texas is a civil lawsuit, which means 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 generally 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."

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