Understanding Texas Dram Shop Laws and Liability for Driving While Intoxicated Accidents

texas dram shop laws

A drunk driving accident is a tragic and avoidable consequence of misusing alcohol. It’s one of the leading causes of car accidents in Texas, causing thousands of people to lose their lives and thousands more to suffer severe injuries each year. Despite strict laws against driving while intoxicated (DWI), public awareness campaigns, and encouragement to assign a designated driver or arrange for alternative transportation, DWI accidents continue to occur.

But who’s at fault in a DWI accident in Texas, and what role do Texas dram shop laws play? In this blog post, we explain what the Texas dram shop statute means for you and how it can impact your personal injury claim, along with who else might be liable for your accident.

The Difference between Driving While Intoxicated and Driving Under the Influence

At first glance, you might assume driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence (DUI) are one and the same. In many states, and often in conversation, they’re used interchangeably, but Texas law makes a key distinction.

A person is legally intoxicated in Texas when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.08%.

However, even a lower BAC can result in DWI liability if their alcohol consumption impairs their ability to react or drive safely.

When this happens, they are committing a driving while intoxicated offense.

Texas has a separate offense solely for minors (drivers aged under 21), where it is illegal for a minor to drive with alcohol in their system — even if they’re not physically or mentally impaired.

In this case, they can be charged with a DUI. Minors can also be charged with a DWI if their BAC is over the limit or their alcohol intake affects their driving.

In short, only minors can be charged with a DUI, but any driver, regardless of their age, can be given a DWI.

What Are Texas Dram Shop Laws?

Chapter two of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code asserts the right of any individual to “bring a common law cause of action against any individual whose consumption of an alcoholic beverage allegedly resulted in causing the person bringing the suit to suffer personal injury or property damage.”

In other words, you are entitled to claim compensation when a DWI accident injures you. This law refers specifically to the individual who consumed the alcohol (the drunk driver), but what about the business that served them?

Texas laws prevent establishments that serve liquor — such as bars, restaurants, and clubs — from serving minors or patrons who are obviously drunk or impaired. If they do, and that individual then goes on to injure you in a drunk driving accident, you can hold them liable.

These rules, known as dram shop laws, state that providing, selling, or serving an alcoholic beverage can be the basis of a personal injury claim if you can prove that:

  1. It was obvious that the individual served was so intoxicated as to present a danger to themselves and others, and;
  2. The individual’s intoxication resulted in them causing harm.

We’ll illustrate this with an example.

Let’s say you’re in a car accident caused by someone driving while intoxicated. You secure CCTV footage from the club they were at that shows the driver stumbling around before heading to the bar and being served an alcoholic drink. Several eyewitnesses also testify that the driver was rowdy and had been drinking for several hours.

This satisfies part one of the burden of proof.

The driver leaves the club and gets in their car.

As you drive down the street, the drunk driver, who was speeding, heads straight on at a T-junction, causing them to plow head-on into the side of your car as you’re passing the intersection. You sustain a traumatic brain injury in the accident.

This satisfies part two of the burden as if they hadn’t been drinking, they would have been driving at a legal speed and checked it was safe to proceed at the intersection.

What Do Texas Dram Shop Laws Say about Serving Minors?

If your accident was caused by a child (under 18) who was intoxicated, you may be able to claim from an adult. Texas dram shop laws state that any adult over 21 can be liable for damages caused by an intoxicated minor (under the age of 18) if:

  1. The adult is not the child’s custodian, parent, guardian, or spouse, and;
  2. They knowingly served the minor alcohol or allowed the minor to be served alcohol on their premises.

What If You’re Injured in a DWI Accident in Texas after a Drunk Driver Is Served at a Party?

In many states, social host liability laws hold an individual legally responsible when they provide alcohol — without payment — to an intoxicated person who then gets behind the wheel and causes an accident.

An example would be if a party host serves a guest multiple alcoholic drinks despite knowing they were driving home. Social host liability would allow them to be held liable if the person they served got into a car accident because they were intoxicated.

However, as a rule, Texas does not recognize social host liability, meaning a social host is typically not responsible for the actions of adults they served alcohol to. That said, you could argue hosts have a moral obligation to see their visitors get home safely.

The exception is if the adult serves a minor aged under 18, as already touched on, where as long as the adult served the minor on premises they own or lease, and they are not the child’s custodian, parent, guardian, or spouse, they may be liable.

If the party takes place at a public establishment, such as a restaurant, the Texas dram shop statute applies. This allows the business to be liable for any damages caused by a drunk driver who consumed alcohol on the premises.

DWI Accident Liability in Texas

Liability can be complex in DWI accidents, as multiple parties may be responsible. These include:

  • The driver
  • The establishment that served the alcohol
  • Any third parties that may have contributed to the accident
  • You.

The basic requirement for successfully claiming compensation is proving that your accident was caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, which means you need evidence. Fortunately, evidence can be gathered at the scene, which can substantially help your case.

After a DWI accident, you must legally report the accident to the police, as it’s also a criminal offense. When an officer arrives, they will ask permission to administer breathalyzer (or BAC) tests to all involved. Drivers can refuse a breathalyzer test, but they will lose their license for 180 days (or two years if they’ve had a DWI or refusal in the past ten years).

A BAC test can be a crucial piece of evidence showing the driver was intoxicated during the crash, but even if they refuse, the crash report filed by police after the accident can also indicate if they were drunk. This could include information such as if they were slurring their words, unsteady on their feet, acting aggressively, or if the officer could smell alcohol on their breath.

Proving the establishment that served the driver is at fault can be more difficult, but eyewitness statements, CCTV, BAC tests, and receipts can all help show the driver’s level of intoxication and the establishment’s part in serving them.

Sometimes, a DWI accident can involve multiple vehicles, with several parties each contributing. A highly-simplified example could look like this:

You, in Car A, are driving down the street behind Car B, which is following too close behind. You see a speeding vehicle, Car C, approaching fast, so you hit the brakes, causing Car B to rear-end your vehicle. Car C fails to slow down and crashes into you.

While the intoxicated driver may be majorly liable for your damages (including your medical bills, lost wages from being unable to work, and compensation for the pain you’ve suffered due to your injuries), the driver of Car B might also be at fault, as they were tailgating you.

In the final scenario, you might also be partly responsible for the crash. Let’s take the above example; only this time, you were checking your phone while driving, so you didn’t see the drunk driver (Car C) approaching. While the driver of Car C will likely be largely at fault, you might also be slightly responsible, as you were distracted. The drunk driver’s insurance company may claim that you would have been able to avoid the accident if you were paying attention.

Because Texas has modified comparative negligence rules, you will receive less compensation if you’re partly at fault for your accident.

Proving an Establishment’s DWI Liability in Texas: The Elements of a Texas Dram Shop Claim

We now know that to demonstrate an establishment is liable for a DWI accident, you must prove it served alcohol to the person who caused the accident and that they were intoxicated.

But what constitutes intoxicated? Is someone drunk if they are slightly merry, or only if they are struggling to walk straight?

Texas law offers some guidance: the individual who caused the accident must have been “obviously intoxicated” at the time of sale or service.

While a BAC test provides definitive proof of how much alcohol is in someone’s system, it would be ridiculous if a bartender or server mandated a breathalyzer test every time someone wanted to order a drink. This makes the concept of intoxication somewhat subjective. Everyone processes alcohol differently — a 200-pound man who enjoys alcohol regularly will typically be able to drink more before becoming noticeably drunk. Likewise, a 100-pound woman who hasn’t had a drink in years might exhibit signs of drunkenness more quickly.

Obvious intoxication, then, can be defined as a level of impairment that is apparent to a reasonable person. If an individual is slurring their words, falling asleep, or stumbling around, these are clear signs of intoxication.

Texas dram shop laws also apply if a server knows (or should have known) how much a person can reasonably drink. Again, this is subjective, but if a server reasonably knows that giving an individual five drinks in an hour is enough to make them drunk, serving a sixth would constitute negligence.

This is crucial in DWI liability cases, as it’s not enough for an establishment to serve a patron and for an accident to happen. There must be a link between those two events — that the person was already drunk and presented a clear danger.

Defenses to a Texas Dram Shop Claim

Because it can be hard to prove an establishment is liable for a DWI accident in Texas, there are several common defenses to a claim.

The defendant may argue:

  • They did not sell, serve, or provide alcohol to the individual who caused the accident.
  • The individual was a minor, and the establishment did not know the individual’s age.
  • The individual did not solely cause the accident, and another factor (such as bad road conditions or an auto defect) primarily led to the crash.

Regardless of whether or not an establishment raises one of these defenses, evidence is key to meeting the burden of proof. Our experienced car accident lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio can build a strong case so you can secure the compensation you deserve.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Texas DWI Accident Claim?

Each state has a statute of limitations — the amount of time you have to bring legal action against another party. In Texas, the statute of limitations for any type of personal injury claim is two years from the date of your accident. If you do not claim within this time, you cannot recover compensation, even if your injuries worsen and affect you for the rest of your life.

Two years may seem like a long time, but it can tick by quickly. Taking early action allows you to begin gathering critical evidence. Memories fade, so speaking to witnesses as soon as possible reduces the likelihood of witnesses contradicting each other — or themselves. Some establishments may also only keep CCTV footage for a certain length of time, so if you wait, you may be too late to collect evidence crucial to your case.

Consulting a Personal Injury Attorney for Your Texas DWI Accident

If you or a loved one has been injured in a DWI accident in Texas, it’s vital to consult a personal injury attorney.

Our experienced McAllen and San Antonio personal injury lawyers can help you understand the nuances of your accident, tell you if you have a claim, explain Texas’s complex dram shop laws, and explore all possible avenues of recovering compensation.

Establishing liability in a Texas dram shop claim can be challenging, but Dr. Louis Patino and his team can help you get the compensation and justice you deserve. To find out if you have a case, book a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 855-LAW-NINJA, submitting a confidential contact form, or popping into one of our offices. We can also come to you!

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