Driver SafetyDram Shop Law in Texas: The Ultimate Guide

June 29, 2021

The Dram Shop Law in Texas allows victims of drunk driving accidents to hold all liable parties accountable. When a bar overserves a patron who goes on to cause an accident, they share responsibility. 

As your advocates, we hold the liable accountable to maximize your settlement. Call 713-913-4627 to schedule your free case evaluation. 

What You Need to Know About Dram Shop Law in Texas

Everyone knows that it’s a bad idea to get behind the wheel after a few too many drinks. Moreover, many in the food and beverage industry know that it’s illegal to serve too many drinks to a patron. 

When you experience a DWI accident that leaves you injured, you probably want to know who is legally responsible. If a bar overserves a patron, leaves a bar, and causes an auto accident, who’s liable?

The answer is complex. However, with the help of Houston car accident lawyers, you have advocates who know how to investigate and prosecute these cases. At AP Law Group, our attorneys understand how to maximize your claim through Dram Shop laws in Texas. 


Related Reading: Deadliest Place to Drive: Is it Houston?

What Is a “Dram Shop”?

The term “dram shop” refers to establishments that serve alcoholic beverages. If that sounds broad and vague, it is. The term covers clubs, taverns, pubs, bars, grilles, restaurants, and any other commercial establishment that serves alcohol. 

Specifically, “dram” is a unit of measurement for alcohol. 

What’s the Point of Texas Dram Shop Laws?

Across the United States, state governments enact dram shop laws for two main purposes. One purpose is punitive. States hope to reduce instances of driving while intoxicated (DWI) and the crimes associated with inebriation. 

When a customer is visibly drunk and a bartender continues to serve them, it’s possible for your personal injury lawyer to hold the establishment accountable if they go on to cause an accident or assault someone. 

When a drunk driver collides with a pedestrian or other motorist, the injured victim has the option to sue the driver. This is true in any type of auto accident. Through the dram shop laws in Texas and many other states, you also have the option to sue that establishment. 

Essentially, it recognizes the fault of the establishment when they overserve a patron who later commits a crime. However, proving dram shop cases is tricky. Generally, it’s best to have a lawyer on your side who understands what to do. 


Related Reading: Drunk Driving Accidents

How Dram Shop Laws Work in Texas

Per the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §2.01, when a bar or retailer provides, serves, or sells alcohol to a clearly intoxicated customer who goes on to cause injuries or property damage, that establishment is liable. However, this applies mainly to commercial entities. 

Social Host Rules and Texas Dram Shop Laws

In Texas, these laws do not foster liability for a “Social Host.” This means that when someone over-serves a friend or family member at their home, they are not liable for their actions. Unfortunately, this includes incidents when that intoxicated person causes a drunk driving accident. 

However, there’s an important exception to this immunity. When a social host serves alcohol to a minor under 18 years old, that adult who contributes to their intoxication is responsible. 

How Do Texas Dram Shop Laws Treat Juveniles and Minors?

For someone under the age of 18, there is a different set of rules. Per section 2.02, the rules for minors apply in the following way. An adult over the age of 21 is liable for damages caused by an intoxicated minor in these cases. 

  • The adult is not the minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse. 
  • A minor is committed by a court in the custody of an adult. 
  • The adult knowingly serves alcohol that contributes to the intoxication of the minor. 
  • An adult allows others to serve alcohol that contributes to the intoxication of the minor on their (the adult’s) property.

What Does That All Mean?

Essentially, the Social Host immunity often applied in residential buildings does not apply when adults serve minors. Oftentimes, people refer to social host rules as a Safe Harbor defense or a “silver bullet” defense. In the above cases, they do not protect that adult. 

Additionally, these circumstances remove the requirement of “obvious intoxication.”

For bars and restaurants, it applies in a similar manner when they serve minors. As such, the law treats them quite harshly. 

Why 18 and not 21?

You might wonder why the threshold for a minor here is 18 when the legal drinking age is 21. While those aged 18-20 cannot legally purchase alcohol, dram shop laws treat them as 21. 

When an 18-year-old illegally purchases alcohol, the law treats them as an adult. 

Effectively, treating 18-20-year-olds as “minors” in this instance rewards them. How? It essentially lowers the standards of their dram shop claim. 

Moreover, this would mean that they have special rights not provided to other adults who followed the law as they purchased alcohol. As such, the legislators chose to treat everyone over 18 in the Dram Shop Act to avoid a bigger problem of special privileges.  

Liability and Responsibility 

At first glance, these laws might seem simple and straightforward. However, in a DWI accident, who is responsible when an overserved patron causes a car wreck. Is it the bar, the customer, or both?

As with many legal matters, “it depends.”

In personal injury claims, it’s possible to hold multiple parties liable for a driver’s intoxication and the damage they cause. Who we hold liable as auto accident attorneys depends on the facts of your case. 

Generally, the facts of a case determine the best approach. Every claim is unique and requires personalized attention. When a drunk driver causes you harm, it’s essential to speak with a legal team that understands this. 


Related Reading: Fault in Texas

What Do We Have to Prove Under the Dram Shop Act?

In certain states, liability applies automatically to bars and other establishments that overserve an intoxicated patron. However, Texas sets the bar a little higher for personal injury claims. In order to apply dram show law in Texas, we have to prove the obvious intoxication of a patron when the bar sold them alcohol. 

In other words, we have to show that the patron’s intoxication would be clear to a reasonable person. 

For Texas, the law is yet more complex. There’s no automatic liability for commercial establishments that serve an intoxicated individual who goes on to harm another person. Additionally, Texas does not require restaurants or bars to maintain Liquor Liability Insurance. 

This makes dram shop cases in Texas a minefield when you don’t know what to look for. In order to evaluate this case, your drunk driving accident attorney has to balance fault among the following. 

  1. Defendant – the intoxicated patron/ driver 
  2. Dram Shop – the bar or restaurant 
  3. Plaintiff – the injured victim 

It is essential to show clear fault in the auto accident. This is because you have the potential to level fault on one individual or multiple parties. 

With a thorough, prompt investigation by your attorney and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, you have a better chance to apply dram shop laws. 

Evidence in a Dram Shop Case

Establish proof in a dram shop case is no easy task. Typically, a server or bartender has no reason to admit to overserving a patron. Oftentimes, it requires testimony from witnesses, circumstantial evidence, or a toxicology expert.

Examples of evidence for dram shop law in Texas include the following. 

  • Video or testimony of the patron’s slurred speech
  • Images or testimony of their bloodshot eyes
  • Testimony that their breath smelled of alcohol
  • Someone telling the bartender or server the patron already had alcohol in their system
  • A lack of steadiness or balance on the part of the customer
  • Consumption of alcohol in the establishment at a level that would make the average person intoxicated

Additionally, our attorneys work to tie the sale of alcohol to the patron to your injuries. Typically, this is simple in DWI accidents. 

Who Can File a Lawsuit Under Dram Shop Law in Texas?

Generally speaking, the dram shop law in Texas protects a broad spectrum of people. Here are a few examples of who has the option to file a dram shop claim. 

  • Passengers in a vehicle operated by a drunk driver 
  • Motorists and pedestrians struck by a drunk driver 
  • Those who sustain property damage caused by a drunk driver
  • Drunk drivers themselves

Often, that last one surprises people. However, it is true. Every dram shop has a responsibility to its patrons. They have to provide appropriate service under the law. 

The establishment’s liquor license holds them to this standard. As such, when drunk drivers injure themselves in a single-car accident, they have the option to pursue action against the overserving establishment. 

When a drunk driver causes an accident that causes you harm, you have rights. Whether we apply dram shop law in Texas to your claim requires the details of your case. That’s why a free case evaluation is invaluable to injured Texans. 

Our Houston Auto Accident Attorneys Are Ready to Help

If you sustain injuries in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver in Houston, it is essential to hold all liable parties accountable. This also applies to other incidents involving inebriated individuals who cause you harm. 

In a DWI accident, it is easy to hold the drunk driver at fault. However, when an establishment overserves a clearly drunk patron, they share liability as well. When it comes to maximizing your settlement, it is not an either/or matter. In such a claim, you have the option to sue both. 

The dram shop law in Texas requires a thorough investigation. That’s why you need an advocate who offers personalized attention and aggressive representation to your case. 

At  AP Law Group, we help injured Texans hold the liable accountable for their negligence. See what we can do for you.

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