What are the Dram Shop Laws?

The “Dram Shop Laws” refer to a specific category of legislation in Texas and other states dealing with the civil liability associated with bars and other business establishments which serve alcoholic beverages to the public. As the name implies, a “Dram Shop” refers to the drinking establishment itself. The laws establish potential liability for those establishments if they serve alcoholic beverages to patrols who are clearly intoxicated and who cause personal injury or damage to innocent victims.

Typically these laws come into play in drunk-driving situations, where the drunk driver causes personal injury, death, or property damages to another individual. Before the enactment of the Dram Ship Laws, the only remedy for the victim of the accident was to sue the individual drunk driver for damages. Under the Dram Shop statute, however, the victim may, under certain circumstances, also be able to recover damages from the drinking establishment that served alcohol to the drunk driver.

The Dram Shop Law in Texas

In Texas, the Dram Shop Act is found in Title I, Chapter 2, of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. Under the Act, a person who provides, sells, or serves an alcoholic beverage may incur liability upon proof that:   

(1) at the time the sale or service of alcoholic beverage 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.

In addition, if the provider holds a liquor license or permit that allows them to conduct their business, that license or permit may be revoked based upon the same elements of proof.

What if the intoxicated person being served was a minor? 

A different provision exists for minors under the age of 18. Under the Act, an adult 21 years of age or older is liable for damages proximately caused by the intoxication of a minor, if the adult knowingly:

(1) served or provided to the minor any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication; or

(2)  allowed the minor to be served or provided any of the alcoholic beverages that contributed to the minor’s intoxication on the premises owned or leased by the adult.

This provision does not apply to an adult who is the minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse, or who has legal custody of the minor who caused the damage.

Thus, if an adult serves or provides alcohol to a minor who injures himself or someone else as a result of intoxication, the adult who served the minor can be held liable for damages. In the case of minors, the server incurring liability can be a private individual, not only a drinking establishment. Furthermore, many of the defenses that help to shield and protect businesses and private individuals from liability when serving an adult do not apply when a minor is served alcohol.  

What are the legal implications of the Act?

The intent of this law is not to absolve the intoxicated driver of liability under the law. The victim of an accident can still sue the driver, and almost certainly will do so. What the law seeks to accomplish is to provide legal grounds to also hold the drinking establishment financially liable as well, provided the elements of the cause of action are met. After all, the drunk driver may be an uninsured motorist, which means that the plaintiff/victim would have little or no financial recovery if they had no other appropriate target for their claim. 

The elements of the claim:

In order to recover damages against the serving establishment, the plaintiff has to show that:

  • the drinking establishment must have served an obviously intoxicated person who was a danger to himself or others;
  • the intoxication of the illegally served customer must have been the proximate cause of an accident; and
  • the injuries or death, and the civil damages associated with them, must have resulted from that accident.

Obviously this Act provides only a potential source of recovery for injured plaintiff, and does not guarantee that the drinking establishment will be held liable. The plaintiff has the burden of proof by preponderance of the evidence that the stated elements exist. This may be a difficult task to establish in trial, so competent legal representation for the plaintiff is essential.

Does the Dram Shop Act apply to private individuals?

The short answer to this question is “generally no.”

The Dram Shop Act only applies to “providers,” and that term is specifically defined as “a person who sells or serves an alcoholic beverage under authority of a license or permit issued under the terms of this code or who otherwise sells an alcoholic beverage to an individual.”

Therefore, if the host of a private party serves an individual too much alcohol, the host would generally not incur liability under this Act; unless, as discussed above, the intoxicated individual being served happened to be a minor under the age of 18. Otherwise, there would be no liability for a party host to serve alcohol to an intoxicated adult since the host was not selling beverages at the party, and since the host was likely not a holder of a license or permit to sell or serve alcohol.

The Dram Shop Act is an exclusive remedy

When it comes to suing a drinking establishment, the Dram Shop Act is an exclusive remedy. That means those typical common law tort actions, such gross negligence, are not available to the plaintiff as a viable cause of action against a bar that acts inappropriately by serving an intoxicated individual. So if the injured party is not able to meet the elements of the Act, the drinking establishment will be free from a claim of damages. In this respect, the law is a compromise between the public’s need for legislation, and the pro-business demographic that wants to protect itself from civil liability.

How should I contact a lawyer?

If you or a loved one is injured by a drunk driver, you may have a Dram Shop Act remedy available to you for the recovery of significant monetary damages. Business establishments will do anything to avoid liability, so it is imperative that you act immediately by contacting an attorney to begin investigating the case before the evidence is lost or destroyed. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases.

If you would like more information about how to receive the benefits that the Dram Shop Laws provide, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153 for a free consultation.

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THE BIGHAM LAW FIRM

PERSONAL INJURY | CRIMINAL DEFENSE | FAMILY LAW

Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community. 

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