Drunk driving is a problem across the United States. According to the national highway traffic safety administration, in 2014 approximately 9,967 people lost their lives in drunk driving related accidents across the country. That accounts for nearly 31% of all traffic fatalities.
In our office, we have both experienced personal injury attorneys and experienced DWI attorneys. We see DWI client after DWI client that comes through the door that received a DWI after leaving a bar where they became obviously intoxicated and the bar or restaurant let them go out into the public knowing that they presented a danger to themselves and others.
This is a huge problem here in North Texas. Just look at recent news stories from the last few months. We have countless late night fatality accidents involving allegedly drunk drivers, and some of them were either leaving a bar or restaurant where they had been served alcohol to the point of intoxication. Alcohol related accidents are not just a new phenomenon, in fact we are closing in on 30 years of dram shop liability in Texas for bars, restaurants and others who are licensed to serve alcohol in the state of Texas.
WHAT ARE DRAM SHOP LAWS?
Dram shop laws hold establishments with liquor licenses accountable to their patrons and third parties for the acts of their patrons when they leave. The cause of action is found under § 2.02 of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Code and provides compensation for victims who were injured by an intoxicated patron. The statute provides a rigorous test that must be overcome to achieve liability. In addition, there is a safe harbor for the licensee that a Plaintiff’s attorney will need to overcome, as well. However, those thresholds can be overcome by direct and circumstantial evidence. This means that a Plaintiff’s attorney can use pretty close to anything they find as long as it can be verified.
Dram shop cases may be brought by third parties, such as victims of drunk driving accidents, including their estate. A dram shop case may also be brought by the drunken patron, because under Texas law, the bar has an affirmative duty not to overserve the patron. The patron may bring suit for the damages the patron caused to themselves and others as a result of their intoxication.
Regardless of the type of case, the elements of the Texas Dram Shop law still must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, and the safe harbor provision and its elements must also be overcome before any liability can be assessed. Because of this, it is a rigorous process. Dram shop cases may take years and go through numerous appeals before any real resolution occurs in the case.
As is probably basic to understand, the role of a Plaintiff’s attorney is quite different than a Defense attorney in these cases. The role of a Plaintiff’s attorney is to guide their client through the muck of insurance law, personal injury law and dram shop laws in order to achieve maximum financial recovery for their client. Defense attorneys typically work for the establishment and are provided by the establishment’s insurance company in order to limit and/or eliminate any financial burden on the establishment and their insurance company. Regardless of whether you are a victim or an establishment, having a good attorney that has experience in matters such as these is key to your success. If you find yourself in such a situation, contact a licensed attorney in your area.
More specifically, if you have been involved in a car accident and you were tagged for a DWI after you got drunk at a bar or restaurant, you need to contact an experienced DWI attorney AND a dram shop or personal injury attorney. You are going to need a DWI attorney regardless. Do not do that on your own. It is best to speak with an experienced DWI attorney who can evaluate your case and help you through the ins-and-outs of DWI defense. DWI’s can involve jail time, as the range of punishment is typically between a class B misdemeanor for your first time offense, and at least a class A misdemeanor for repeat offenders or first timers with a .15 BAC or higher at the time of the accident. The range punishment increases the more times you are a DWI offender and can become a state jail felony, and even a third degree felony for continued repeat offenders. This does not include charges for manslaughter or other charges that may result from drunk driving accidents. This is just the charge of a DWI.
In addition, you need to allow a personal injury or dram shop attorney to evaluate your case to see if they believe the bar or restaurant violated the Texas dram shop laws. Bring copies of receipts for purchases at the bar, or statement of how much you spent at the establishment that night to the consultation. Get statements from friends who were there and can attest to the events that happened that night. Obtain any necessary police reports and take pictures of any accident scene (if you’re able to do so). Gather as much evidence as you can before you get to an attorney’s office because that is the best time to get it. The information will be more readily available, and witness memory will be most accurate.
ABOUT OUR FIRM:
Guest and Gray, P.C. is an experienced litigation team serving all North Texas counties. We regularly pursue and defend various civil litigation claims, including personal injury claims. Our practice is quickly growing, and we have multiple offices in the area to provide maximum convenience to our clients. We are longtime faces in our community and we love what we do. We seek to provide an air of calm and confidence for our clients during a difficult time. We believe that makes us a little bit different from everybody else, and we like it that way.
For more information, or if you are seeking legal advice, give us a call at (972) 564-4644.