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Third-Party Liability in Texas Drunk Driving Cases

Third-Party Liability in Texas Drunk Driving Cases

Impaired motorists may not be the only ones at fault for drunk driving crashes in Texas. In fact, in the Lone Star State, third parties, like the providers of alcohol, can share liability for these wrecks in some cases.

Here’s a closer look at how and when that can happen, along with some key points any motorist should know about Texas laws.

Texas Dram Shop Act & Third-Party Liability for Drunk Driving Crashes

Detailed in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, the Dram Shop Act establishes liability for alcohol “providers,” meaning those who sell and serve alcohol “under the authority of a license or permit.”

The Texas Dram Shop Act, which has been in effect since June 1987, essentially states that alcohol providers can be liable for the personal injuries caused by drunk individuals when:

  1. The alcohol provider has “sold, served, or provided” an “obviously intoxicated” person with alcohol.
  2. The alcohol intoxication was directly responsible for the damage or personal injuries.

According to this statute:

  • Alcohol providers can refer to establishments and their employees: Specifically, bars, restaurants, and other alcohol-selling businesses can be liable for drunk driving cases under the Texas Dram Shop Act. So can the individuals who work for these alcohol-providing establishments, like bartenders.
  • Alcohol providers can be liable for overserving their patrons: If providers continue to provide alcohol to guests who are slurring, falling down, or otherwise clearly intoxicated, they can be liable for the accidents and harm caused by the drunk individuals they overserved.

Notably, over the past 35 years, case law from the Texas Supreme Court has refined the Dram Shop Act in some ways, particularly with regards to social host liability for impaired driving wrecks.

Can Social Hosts Be Liable for Drunk Driving Accidents in Texas?

Yes and no is the short answer here. In fact, while the original draft of the Texas Dram Shop Act included provisions to hold social hosts liable, those provisions were removed before the Act was passed by the state legislature. Consequently, social host liability for impaired driving crashes has been largely defined by Graff v. Beard (1993) and subsequent case law.

With those rulings, Texas courts clarified that while social hosts are typically NOT liable for impaired driving accidents in Texas, there ARE some situations in which these hosts can find themselves at fault for wrecks caused by their intoxicated guests.

Specifically, social hosts who serve of-age guests alcohol — and who are not selling alcohol or charging their guests to consume that alcohol — will not usually share any liability for drunk driving crashes.

That can change, however, creating liability for social hosts whenever:

  1. They serve alcohol to minors who are unrelated to them: If those drunk minors cause impaired driving crashes, the social host can share some liability for the harm caused by the drunk minors they served.
  2. Social hosts charge their guests for the alcohol provided: In this case, social hosts could arguably be stepping into the “alcohol provider” role, as described in the Texas Dram Shop Act, potentially creating liability based on the fact the host is selling the alcohol they’re serving.

How to Prove Third-Party Liability in Drunk Driving Cases in Texas

Knowing about third-party liability is crucial, but proving it can be a whole different story when it’s time to pursue a drunk driving case and recover damages for your injuries, suffering, and losses. To establish third-party liability in an impaired driving case, it can be critical to:

  1. Retrace the activities of the drunk driver before (s)he got behind the wheel.
  2. Reinterview witnesses and/or review available surveillance footage to assess impairment, signs of impairment, and other key factors.
  3. Look into the history of an establishment to see if they are known for overserving patrons.
  4. Dig into the impaired motorist’s driving record to see if they have a history of causing drunk driving accidents.
  5. Gather evidence of impairment, like chemical test results and copies of police reports for the accident.
  6. Work with an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer who can help you determine and establish liability, so you’re able to recover while holding all at-fault parties liable.

An experienced attorney will know what evidence to look for, how to prove liability, and how to set an impaired driving accident case up for the best possible resolution.