DWI Trial At Seminar Revealed Valuable Insights

Wednesday, with the State Bar of Texas convention here in Fort Worth, the Texas Board of Trial Advocates conducted an excellent full day trial so injury attorneys could sharpen their skills.Some of the top trial attorneys in the state played the roles of attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants and Judge R.H. Wallace from Fort Worth presided over the trial.

The DWI case, which was tried in South Carolina several years ago, involved personal injuries to a man who was broad sided on a Sunday morning as he drove to church. The property damage to his van was devastating. He claimed he had sustained a traumatic brain injury which had ruined his life.

The defendant driver was a habitual drunk whose blood alcohol content was about four times the legal limit.  He was convicted of vehicular assault and was serving a jail sentence.

One of the many problems the plaintiff’s team tried to overcome was the scarcity of credible evidence regarding which of the three bars the driver had been to that night was responsible for the crash. Another was that at least four hours passed from the time the drunkard left the defendant’s bar and the time of the crash. Other problems included the lack of credibility of the drunk driver, the lack of proof as to whether he had drunk any alcohol at the defendant’s bar (it claimed it only served him water), his blood alcohol content, the plaintiff’s medical and lost wages damages, and other critical issues.

After hearing an abbreviated version of the evidence, the jury deliberated and we watched them discuss the case. It is impossible to do this, of course, during an actual trial. The interplay between the jurors, the evidence cited and ignored, and the final verdict — that the bar was negligent but that the overserving of alcohol was not the proximate cause of the collision — were illuminating.

The corporation that owned the bar and its owner were sued under what it referred to as the “dram shop act.”  In England, a dram was a shot. These laws are created to discourage restaurant and bar owners from overserving alcohol and serving any alcohol to minors. They are also a way for injured people to be compensated, since the drunk driver usually lacks significant insurance or assets.

The Texas dram shop law is codified in the Alcoholic Beverage Code, Section 2.02(b):

Providing, selling, or serving an alcoholic beverage may be made the basis of a statutory cause of action under this chapter … upon proof that:

(1) at the time the provision occurred it was apparent to the provider that the individual being sold, served, or provided with an alcoholic beverage was obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others; and
(2) the intoxication of the recipient of the alcoholic beverage was a proximate cause of the damages suffered.

Unfortunately, Texas’s dram shop act has been, um, watered down by the state legislature and courts.  And these cases can be extremely difficult to win, as we again learned at the seminar.

Furthermore, a report revealed that most of the other states have loosened the liability for bar owners at a time when deaths and serious injuries caused by drunk drivers has skyrocketed. Excessive alcohol consumption causes 80,000 deaths each year in the United States.

This seminar taught us personal injury lawyers how to better prepare for trial of DWI cases against the driver and the bar that allowed the driver to get drunk.

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