Are Bars and Clubs Liable for Over-Serving?

When you go out to a bar or club for a few drinks with friends, you have a personal responsibility to conduct yourself appropriately. What you may not know is that bars and clubs also have a responsibility. In Texas, state dram shop laws prevent alcohol-selling establishments from selling to overly and obviously intoxicated customers.

Texas Dram Shop Laws

According to the laws listed in the Alcoholic Beverage Code §2.02, a person may file a lawsuit against any establishment that knowingly continues to serve an intoxicated patron who clearly presents a risk of self-harm or danger to others, if the intoxicated person caused the plaintiff harm.

In effect, if a stumbling drunk person starts a brawl in the local sports bar and suffers a concussion, the establishment may face legal responsibility for at least some of the damages. Similarly, if a clearly intoxicated person leaves an establishment and causes a drunk driving accident, the establishment may bear some responsibility. The law also applies in cases involving alcohol poisoning, particularly of young legal drinkers who may not know their limits.

Proving Bar/Club Liability in Alcohol-Related Claims

The state dram shop laws are clear, but the application of those laws can get tricky. To prove a bar or club’s liability in an alcohol-related incident, the plaintiff/intoxicated patron must prove that:

  • The establishment did, in fact, sell alcohol to the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff can prove a proximate cause between the establishment’s over-serving and the level of intoxication.
  • The plaintiff did suffer some physical injury and/or property damage as the result of the establishment’s overserving.

Proving intoxication without a reliable BAC test often means finding witnesses to the event. If someone will testify they saw the bartender or server doling out drink after drink despite a customer’s loss of coordination, belligerence, and glassy-eyed look, then the plaintiff stands a better chance of proving the establishment’s liability.

Beyond linking the establishment to intoxication, the plaintiff needs to prove his or her injuries would not have happened if he or she was not over-served. For example, let’s say an intoxicated individual decided not to drive home after too many drinks and opted for a taxi ride instead, which resulted in an accident. The customer cannot hold the establishment accountable for accident injuries in this case because the accident could have happened regardless of intoxication.

Comparative Negligence and Texas Dram Shop Laws

While establishments may face liability for injuries associated with over-serving, compensation is not a given. Under Texas’s comparative negligence rules, an alcohol-selling establishment will only face liability if a jury determines it was more than half responsible for the incident and injuries. In cases involving drunk driving, for example, the bar or club would only face responsibility for over-serving the patron. The driver would also face liability for choosing to drive after drinking.

Damages in Dram Shop Claims

A plaintiff can file an over-serving claim against an alcohol selling establishment within a two year period from the date of the incident. If successful, a plaintiff may secure damages similar to any other personal injury claim minus his or her percentage of fault. A settlement or damage award may consist of compensation to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, future income generating capabilities, and property damage.

If you think you’ve suffered a serious injury as the result of over-serving at a bar, restaurant, club, or other alcohol-selling establishment, talk to an injury lawyer about your situation. A local Houston injury attorney will help you understand how Texas’s dram shop laws apply in your case and if moving forward with a legal claim makes sense. Establishments that willfully continue to serve very intoxicated customers knowingly put lives at risk. Dram shops laws exist to keep bars and clubs from negligent serving practices, and you have the right to hold these establishments accountable for their wrongdoings.