If you were hit by a drunk driver, Texas dram shop laws may allow you to also hold accountable an establishment or another third party who served the driver alcohol. This is known as a “dram shop” claim. Because there are specific laws and rules that apply to these claims, they often require the experience of a Houston Dram Shop Lawyer. If you believe you have a case, contact Ramsey Law Group to schedule your free consultation today.
Dram shop liability holds bars, restaurants, hotels, clubs, or other businesses legally responsible for the resulting damages caused by serving an already intoxicated patron or a minor. As a result, these establishments owe a higher level of care to prevent patrons from driving while drunk. Generally, the party injured by the intoxicated person can sue for their losses, but there are some cases in which the drunk person has the right to sue as well.
However, the bar for holding an establishment liable in a Texas dram shop claim is a little higher than in a typical personal injury claim. In other words, businesses are not automatically liable. Instead, you will have to demonstrate that the drunk party’s level of intoxication when served would be evident to another reasonable person. Oftentimes, that requires testimony from witnesses or a toxicology expert and circumstantial evidence. As a result, whether an establishment can be held liable will vary based on each case’s unique circumstances.
Soon after an accident with a drunk driver, it is in your best interests to consult a dram shop lawyer to ensure all responsible parties are held accountable. However, if you choose to wait, the results from the drunk driver’s blood-alcohol test or toxicology report may be evidence that they were drunk enough to be considered obviously intoxicated hours before the accident occurred. In that case, it is critical to speak to a dram shop lawyer. Hiring one is not required and may seem like an unnecessary expense, but you have a much better chance of succeeding in your case with an experienced lawyer by your side.
Dram shop liability cases are complex. You will need their resources to gather evidence that demonstrates the drunk driver drank at a place of business, the extent of their intoxication, that they were overserved, permitted to leave the premises in their vehicle, and caused your accident. Collecting this evidence and navigating state laws to prove proximate cause can be extremely challenging without a lawyer’s help. A dram shop attorney will not only alleviate your stress, but they will also handle all communication with the insurance companies and prepare your case for trial in case it is necessary.
Under Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Title 1, Chapter 2, any establishment that sells or serves alcohol under the authority of a liquor license can be sued for damages caused by over-serving. In order for a cause of action under the Texas Dram Shop Act to be successful, the following two elements must be present:
For example, suppose an individual goes to a restaurant but stumbles on their way up to the bar. The bartender notices but still proceeds to sell them the drink they ordered. When the overly intoxicated individual leaves the bar to drive home, they crash into another vehicle. The person(s) in the vehicle the intoxicated driver crashed into has the right to recover compensation from the drunk driver and the restaurant that over-served them. Dram shop claims do not always involve drunk driving accidents. For instance, if the overly intoxicated individual runs into another patron coming up some stairs, causing them to fall. The patron who fell may also have a dram shop claim.
The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code also has a provision commonly referred to as the “social host liability law.” This law imposes liability on any adult over the age of 21 who provides alcohol to a minor. For a party to be held liable for damages arising from serving a minor alcohol, the following elements must be present:
In these cases, the provider can be legally liable for the harm caused by and/or to the minor child.
Below are the common types of injuries that are grounds for a Houston dram shop case:
A common form of soft tissue damage that occurs when a person’s neck is ‘whipped’ violently back and forth. It is one of the most common car accident injuries but can also occur in a fall. Soft tissue injuries can be excruciating, and they can require a considerable amount of time to heal.
Severe bone fractures are not only painful, but they can require surgery and a lengthy recovery. Additionally, in extremely dangerous cases, a bone fragment can move through the bloodstream and come in contact with vital organs, such as the lungs or heart.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Concussions and more severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) often have lifelong repercussions. In the most severe cases, brain injuries can result in permanent cognitive or physical impairment.
Back and Spinal Cord Injuries
Even a tiny amount of damage to the spinal cord can have devastating consequences. A spinal cord injury may cause a loss of range of movement, numbness, partial or total paralysis, loss of control over basic bodily functions, and more. Other back injuries, such as a herniated disc or fracture, can take months or even years to recover from. Victims often suffer chronic pain and may be unable to work on a full-time basis.
Damage to internal organs can easily go undetected but can be life-threatening if a victim does not seek medical attention immediately.
Severe lacerations or burns can leave victims with permanent scars or, in the worst cases, disfigured.
In some cases, victims are forced to deal with severe psychological conditions that prevent them from enjoying life, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or insomnia.
Some severe injuries can take days or weeks to fully materialize. As a result, it is best not to assume that you are fine, and make sure to be fully evaluated by a physician as soon as possible.
Victims injured by drunk individuals who were overserved have the right to pursue damages from the party responsible. Those types of damages often available in a drop shop claim include:
Under Texas’s modified comparative negligence law, or 51 percent bar rule, each party involved in a dram shop case will be assigned a percentage of fault for the accident. As a result, your compensation could be reduced and possibly eliminated depending on whether you were also to blame. For example, if you are awarded $500,000 but found 30% at fault, you can only recover 70% of your award or $350,000. If you are found 51% or more to blame, you cannot recover any compensation.
Another factor to keep in mind is even if the establishment or social host has agreed to cover your injury claim, their insurance policies have limits. Because of that, insurance companies will not pay beyond their policyholder’s coverage limits. If your damages exceed these amounts, you will have to pursue other options to recover the difference. Many dram shop cases involve multiple liable parties. If so, you may be able to collect compensation under several insurance policies to cover your losses completely.
Under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code section 16.003., dram shop cases must be filed in Houston, TX, within two years from the date the accident occurred. Generally, there is no way around the statute of limitations. If you wait until after the deadline to file a dram shop claim, the party you are attempting to sue will typically file a “motion to dismiss.” At a hearing, the defendant will point out that the statute of limitations has run, and the judge will almost always dismiss the case unless a rare exception applies to your claim.
Several scenarios may temporarily “toll” or delay the statute of limitations in Texas. These circumstances include:
Based on these exceptions, the clock will begin running either once the injured party turns 18, becomes mentally competent, or once the at-fault party returns to Texas. The purpose of the statute of limitations is to streamline the legal process. That way, dram shop claims are not brought to the courts several years after the incident occurred, during which significant evidence may be lost, and witnesses’ memories can fade. Therefore, in most cases, it is in your best interests to begin the dram shop claims process relatively soon after your injuries. However, that does not mean that you should resolve your claim before you have reached “maximum medical improvement” (MMI) or have an understanding of the total value of your claim.
To learn more about pursuing a dram shop claim in Houston, contact Ramsey Law Group. Our National trial attorneys will ensure every liable party is held responsible for contributing to your injuries, in addition to the drunk driver or individual. Our Houston Dram Shop Lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means there are no upfront fees to secure our representation. We only get paid if you do, and we will cover any expenses related to pursuing your case.
Our Houston personal injury lawyers also provide free and confidential consultations, during which we can discuss your legal options and the next steps in your claim. Call (888) 335-7477 or send us a message online today.