Several weeks ago, three teenagers tragically died when their speeding car crashed in Plano at 4:00 a.m. We all suspected that this was just another Texas drunk driving accident. After all, we are always #1 in the country for the number of DWI fatalities, with 820 Texans losing their lives in 2018. It was shocking that an investigation found that an employee of a nearby barbecue restaurant was responsible for selling alcohol to the minors.
While the employee faces criminal charges of up to one year in jail, you may be wondering
(1) how the civil aspect of a DWI crash case works; and
(2) what damages are available to the families of the young men, if any.
While this crash was unusual due to the involvement of the restaurant employee, there are several options for the families from a civil court perspective. To recover their damages, they could file claims or lawsuits for one or all of the following:
The available insurance proceeds for the first two options will be limited, if paid at all. Most drivers in Texas carry the required amount of $30,000.00 any one person’s injuries and $60,000.00 for all people who are injured in a crash. The focus of this post is on this last option since there will be a commercial insurance policy with substantially higher limits.
Texas and almost every other state provide a remedy for the victims of drunk driving accidents. They (and their survivors) can sometimes sue the restaurants, bars, and retail establishments that served or sold the alcohol that caused the Texas drunk driving accident.
The so-called Texas Dram law originated in England 200 years ago when a “dram” was similar to what we call a shot. Governments recognized that the control of the sale of alcohol is required to insure public safety and realized that the best place to regulate its use is through its distributors.
The Texas Alcohol Beverage Code says that a licensed provider cannot sell, furnish or make alcohol available to someone who is so obviously intoxicated that he presents a danger to himself and others.
In this case, if the young men had met that definition, the restaurant employee incurred liability for her business if she broke the law. Learning about the restaurant’s hiring, training, and supervision of its employees regarding the sale of alcohol is essential.
The usual scenario is when the bartender continues to pour drinks for a customer who is falling out of his bar chair.
That’s because they are likely to drive home and cause a drunk driving accident – and when the drunk has little or no liability insurance, the victim has no way to pay their medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. We specialize in car and truck wrecks we have handled a lot of these DWI collision cases over the past 40 years.
Of course, the alcohol provider must also obtain proof that the customer is 21 years or older, which these teenagers weren’t.
Winning these dram shop cases is not easy. Insurance company lawyers know the tricks they can use to beat liability arguments. For example, the plaintiff’s lawyer must prove that the bar over- served the customer. There is no way to calculate that just by the number of drinks served, if that can be proved.
Further, the liquor establishment must be proved to have known or that it should have known the customer was intoxicated. That is obviously difficult, since warning signs are not always present. It’s not like taking your temperature. And some people hold their liquor better than others.
There are other defenses they can use. Bars send their servers and bartenders to classes or have training in-house. They are taught to discourage their customers from over-drinking and to consume nonalcoholic beverages.
Finally, they can promote the use of Ubers and cab rides as well as “designated drivers.”
These defenses are called “safe harbors” and can present serious challenges to the successful prosecution of one of these lawsuits.
Even if the injury lawyer can prove over-serving with expert testimony, after obtaining receipts and eyewitness, video evidence and medical records showing blood alcohol levels and weight, he or she must also prove that the only reason the collision happened was the alcohol that was provided by the bar, not by another bar or the customer themselves.
We have seen cases when the customer got even more drunk after he left bar #1 to go to bar #2, a friend’s house, or just sat in their vehicle and drank from a bottle.
The use of illegal drugs and other substances, other drivers, and other factors further complicates the picture.
Note that two types of these dram shop cases can be filed, a first party case when the injured, intoxicated person sues the alcohol establishment and more commonly when the injured, innocent victim of the drunk driver files suit.
More information about dram shop act cases and DWIs can be found here:
Car accident lawyer Bill Berenson has advocated for many years on behalf of the victims of drunk driving accidents. He has a long history of supporting Mothers Against Drunk Driving and has served on its North Texas Board of Directors for several years.
If you need help with a drunk driving crash or any collision you have been involved with, please call us at 817-885-8000 or click here. We are here to help you get the compensation that you deserve.