Who Served That Drink?

How Texas law works to hold those who provide the booze liable for the cruise,and what you need to know about who can be liable – and why.

Few things are more frightening on Texas roadways than drunk drivers. We know the menace they represent and the carnage they cause. Texas has some pretty tough criminal laws in place to punish those who offend. And they’re getting tougher.

That’s a good thing!

But we also have a pretty salty statute that can impose civil liability (meaning money damages) on those who hold the bottle and pour the drink.

And that’s a good thing, too!

It’s called the Texas Dram Shop Act, and it’s been in place since 1987. It’s a law that most say has actually worked the way it’s supposed to (that’s always refreshing), although some feel it could use a few more teeth. Perhaps our Legislature will see fit this current session to perform the dental work.

Here's where Dram applies…

If the injured victim of the drunk driver can show:

  1. The defendant was a “provider” of alcoholic beverages, and
  2. provided the alcoholic beverages to someone who “apparent to the defendant” (provider) was “obviously” intoxicated, and
  3. that drunk driver causes the injuries to the victim, then

…the defendant can be held LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE to the victim for the injuries and damages caused.

Now THAT’S a law that packs a punch (and a punch that’s actually been felt by the hospitality industry in lawsuits throughout Texas for many years)! It’s a statute that has helped change, (slowly and perhaps not extensively enough), how restaurants, bars and retail stores approach making that extra buck or two off the “one too many” patron.

But, here's where Dram does NOT apply…

An individual (or organization for that matter) having family or friends over for a visit or hosting a party, function or gathering at their home (or elsewhere) in which adult beverages are “served” is NOT a “provider” under this law, so Dram liability does not apply to the host in this circumstance. But! (This is important.) If the social host is selling drinks to his/her guests…then say hello to Mr. Dram.

The other exception is simply serving (selling not required) an 18-or-under minor who drives drunk and causes injury. Mr. Dram comes along for that ride, too.

This statute is primarily directed at drinking establishments and retail facilities licensed by the State to sell alcohol and at others who, though unlicensed, choose to sell. So, if your best friend Joe drinks too much at your Super Bowl party and drives off and hurts someone that’s on Joe, not you. Joe can be sued – you can’t.

In other words, as a purely social host serving (and not selling) alcohol in Texas, you don’t have a legal duty to make sure your adult guests are sober enough to drive home. Of course, moral duties are important, too. Sometimes Joe needs a little tough love, hot coffee and someone to kidnap his car keys.

Stay safe out there!

-Charlie Waters

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