The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code prohibits the sale of alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated. The Dram Shop Act which allows a cause of action against these establishments became law in 1987. The state legislature wanted to make sure that the victims of car crashes and other torts were compensated by alcohol-providing establishments if they sold an excessive amount of liquor to their customers. The Act takes its name from the English phrase for a “dram,” what we call a shot.
The requirements that must be proven by the injured party to win his lawsuit are the following:
The business served a person who was obviously intoxicated;
He must have been a danger to himself or other people; and
His intoxication was the direct cause of an incident that caused an injury
In 1987, a landmark case imposed a duty on bars, restaurants, and stores to not serve persons that “it knows or should know are intoxicated.” In El Chico v. Poole, the Texas Supreme Court also made our roads safer by reducing the causation requirement for the plaintiff in these cases.
The new Dram Shop Act took effect the next week and the state legislature made these cases harder to prove. Lawmakers increased the injured person’s burden of proof and required specific evidence of “obvious intoxication.” Further, the plaintiff had to prove that the other driver was a “clear danger” to him and others. The injured customer usually did not have that information and it was difficult to obtain. Worse, the new act tied the concept of proximate causation to the intoxication of the drunk driver, not to the conduct of the alcohol seller.
Other Supreme Court sided with the financially powerful liquor industry.
For example, the Duenez family filed a dram shop lawsuit against the owners of a convenience store after one of its clerks sold a large quantity of beer to a man named Ruiz, who was already extremely drunk. He proceeded to crash into this family and seriously injure five people, with two suffering catastrophic brain injuries that required 24-hour a day medical care. A jury in South Texas awarded the family
$35 million and held the store owner (not the drunk driver) 100% responsible for the damages. In 2004, the Supreme Court decided in a split 5-4 case that under Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code, the jury had to allocate fault between the seller and the intoxicated driver. Fortunately for the plaintiffs, the decision allowed them to recover from the store both the percentage of fault that the jury had given to the store and to the drunk. The store appealed. By that point, three justices who had ruled for the plaintiffs had left the court. On rehearing of the exact same issues, the new panel ruled a few years later in favor of the alcohol seller.
In most collisions caused by an intoxicated person, proving that the
reason the car accident happened was more likely because a bar, restaurant or 7-11 allowed him to get drunk (or drunker) can obviously be difficult. The jury often blames the intoxicated driver. But usually the drunk driver does not have a large insurance policy, if he has one at all, to pay for the horrendous damages he may have caused, especially in the typical high-speed crash. The liquor provider often knows that its customer is intoxicated, is leaving by car, and has a duty to stop a crash from happening but can get off scot-free.
Texas is the #1 state in the country for DWI’s. This hits us hard in North Texas, with a whopping 3,783 intoxicated driver collisions in Dallas and Tarrant Counties last year. If you add Collin and Denton Counties, we had almost 5,000 DWI wrecks in the Metroplex last year — that’s almost 14 a day! Over 1,000 people unfortunately died as a result.
Here is more information about this serious issue from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Berenson Injury Law handles many driving while intoxicated crash cases and is closely monitoring this latest high-profile trial. Mr. Berenson pursues reckless drivers, especially ones caused by drunk drivers. He supports Mothers Against Drunk Driving and is a member of its advisory board of directors in North Texas.
The consequences of Brent drinking what experts testified to was 17 alcoholic beverages need to be compensated to the family of the victim. A young man in his dream career on his dream team left behind a baby daughter because his best friend decided to get behind the wheel while drunk.
Restaurants, night clubs, and convenience stores must screen their customers to make sure that drivers are not killed or injured. Lawsuits like the one starting today will send the message that these incredibly lucrative businesses must do their jobs and protect the driving public — even if they make a little less money pouring drinks.