Drunk Driving Accident: Texas Dram Shop Law 101

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Dram shop laws are different in Texas than they are in other states. See how and why they have evolved over the years for personal injury victims.

If you or someone you love has been injured by a drunk driver you may be wondering what the next steps are to recovery and how you can see justice in their drunk driving car accident case.

In Texas Dram Shop Laws exist to protect the rights of Texans to live a safe and healthy life. The laws may protect you and your loved one’s ability to recover. In this post we’ll show you the history behind Texas Dram shop laws, how they are used in practice, and when it may apply.

Texas Drunk Driving Accident Attorney’s View

It’s the responsibility of every driver to ensure that they don’t drink and drive. Getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated is a serious crime, and can have deadly consequences. What’s not as obvious is the responsibility of the alcohol serving establishment to ensure that they’re not endangering the community by over-serving guests at their business.

A business should never put profits above the safety of a community. Dram shop laws exist to protect the public from the risk of having dangerous drivers out on the road. If you or someone you know was injured in a drunk driving accident, a dram shop case may apply.

If you are in Texas, you can request a free case consultation with the experienced drunk driving accident attorneys at McMinn Law Firm.

What is the Texas Dram Shop Law?

If you’re wondering what the dram shop act means, you’ve come to the right place. A dram shop is basically any drinking establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed, such as a bar or a tavern. When someone talks about “Dram Laws” they are referring to a law that holds a drinking establishment liable for injuries resulting from an overconsumption of alcohol. In Texas, dram shop laws are established at the state level.

Typically a dram shop statute is applied only when it is proven that an establishment continued to serve alcohol when they knew that a person was visibly or obviously intoxicated. In some states, the sale of alcohol to intoxicated minors is included.

You can find a definition of Texas’ dram shop law in its original text here.

Texas saw its first tightening of restrictions after the El Chico vs. Poole case was brought to the court in 1987. Read on to see more about what Texas dram shop cases have resulted in.

Dram shop cases

Texas dram shop cases will require evidence to prove negligence. Just because a driver was convicted of a DWI or DUI doesn’t necessarily mean that a dram shop law will apply.

After the 2014 SXSW crash that killed three, national attention was called onto Texas dram shop laws. Drunk driver, Rashad Owens, plowed through a crowd of people killing 4 and injuring 23. The tragic event had many wondering how and if victims in the case would be able to recover any compensation for their losses.

When it came out that the suspect had been accused of being intoxicated at the time of the crash, and had at least one previous drunk driving conviction, it was wondered if any of the bars had served Owens knowing he was intoxicated. In the next section we’ll show what must be known in order to make a supported dram shop claim in Texas.

What must be shown to support a dram shop claim in Texas?

In Texas, proving dram shop liability can be more of a challenge than it is in other states. Without an experienced personal injury attorney on the side of the injured victim it may be impossible to prove dram shop liability.

In Texas, dram shop liability is possible only by the amount that a jury assigns to it.

A driver will be held liable for the proportion of injury that they may have caused by choosing to consume alcohol and then drive.

A trial lawyer will have to convince a jury that a licensed alcohol selling establishment is partially (or completely) responsible for the injuries.

Some bars and restaurants may be protected by safe harbor. It’s not exactly dram shop liability insurance but if they can prove that they meet the requirements for safe harbor under Texas law, it may protect them from some of the liability in a tort case.

A restaurant, bar, hotel, convenience store, or other seller of alcohol may entirely avoid liability under the Texas Dram Shop Act even if one of its employee’s actions violated the rule.

The employer must be able to prove each part in this three-part test:

  1. the employer required its employees to attend a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Certification course approved as a “seller training program.”
  2. the employee actually attended the program; and
  3. the employer did not directly or indirectly encourage the employee to violate the act.

What happened in the Poole v. El Chico case?

The landmark case of El Chico vs. Poole sparked change in Texas’ relaxed liquor sales after it was ruled that a Houston bar negligently served alcoholic drinks to a man who caused a fatal accident.

On January 21, 1983 Rene Saenz drove to a restaurant, El Chico, in the Northwest Mall in Houston. Saenz arrived during happy hour at around 5 p.m. to have drinks while they were priced at “two for one.”

According to Saenz during his deposition the only things he remembered from the night of the accident was getting to the restaurant, ordering his first drink, and the impact of the crash. According to police reports and testimony from other witnesses, Saenz left El Chico at approximately 7:45 p.m. At around 8 p.m.it’s believed that Saenz was driving his car above the speed limit on Mangum when he ran a red light at the Northwest Freeway service road. That’s when his car struck the vehicle of Larry Poole.

Crash reports showed that there were no skid marks on road – Saenz was so out of it he did not attempt to stop at all. Larry Poole was struck as he was making a left turn. After the impact he was transported by helicopter to Hermann Hospital. He was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Just how intoxicated was Saenz? Later in the night Saenz was breathalyzed in a test that read his alcohol concentration level at .18 percent. At the time of that case the legal driving limit was .10 percent.

In the suit, it was alleged that El Chico employees violated section 101.63(a) of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code when they served Saenz whiskey waters when they knew or should have known that Saenz was intoxicated.

The court held that a bar operator “owes a duty to the motoring public to not knowingly sell an alcoholic beverage to an already intoxicated person.”

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