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Alexander Begum Last Updated Date: October 23rd, 2023

Texas Dram Shop Act and the Safe Harbor Act

Most weekends and even some weeknights, bars across Texas are full of people watching sports games, winding down after work, or socializing with friends. While most of those who overindulge take a taxi home or grab a ride with a friend, others insist on driving themselves, with the outcome often being a serious or fatal drunk driving crash.

If you’re injured because a bar or restaurant overserved one of its patrons, you may be able to sue the establishment in addition to the drunk driver. This is because the Texas Dram Shop Act holds bars, restaurants, and other alcohol-serving establishments liable for providing alcohol to an intoxicated person or anyone under the age of 21. However, bar owners often try to deny liability for DUI accidents under the Safe Harbor Act, which offers recognized defenses in these circumstances.

What should you do if an alcohol provider tries to avoid responsibility under the Safe Harbor Act? In this blog, the experienced San Antonio dram shop lawyers at the Villarreal & Begum, LAW GUNS, explain the impact of both acts on drunk driving claims and what you should do if you’ve been injured by an overserved driver in Texas.

Texas Dram Shop Act Explained

If an establishment serves alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated or underaged and that person goes on to injure or kill someone else, the Texas Dram Shop Act allows drunk driving victims to sue the business owner as well as the driver. The Act also provides a powerful incentive for establishments to take responsible alcohol-serving practices seriously, as they can be held liable for any damages caused by intoxicated or underaged patrons.

Before the Dram Shop Act was passed in 1987, state law did not impose liability on any establishment that overserved patrons. Once it was enacted, licensed providers like bars, restaurants, hotels, and liquor stores could be sued for an alcohol-related injury or death if they served an obviously intoxicated adult or a minor.

It is important to note that in a dram shop law claim, the type of proof required is different for a case involving a minor. With adults, the goal is to show that the bar knew the patron was drunk but served them anyway. If the defendant is under the legal drinking age, all that needs to be shown is that they were served any alcoholic beverages at all.

What if the drunk driver was served at someone’s house? Under the Act, social hosts (usually people who provide alcoholic beverages at a house party) can only be sued for a drunk driving accident if they served alcohol to a minor who was not their own child. They are not liable if an adult guest or one of their children later causes a serious or fatal accident.

What is the Safe Harbor Act?

The Texas Safe Harbor Act is a law that provides some protection for bars and other alcohol-serving establishments if they comply with certain standards. If an establishment can show that it provided employee training on responsible alcohol service practices, did not knowingly serve alcohol to someone who was already intoxicated or under 21 years old, and did not promote excessive drinking, it may be able to avoid or limit its liability in a civil lawsuit stemming from a drunk driving accident. 

More specifically, establishment owners may be able to claim Safe Harbor protection if:

  • They require their staff to attend commission-approved seller training programs;
  • The employee who served an intoxicated individual or supplied alcohol to minors attended training classes; and 
  • The employer did not directly or indirectly encourage them to break the law.

Before 2008, sellers of alcohol were required to establish all three of these elements, but that year a Supreme Court decision held that they only had to confirm the first two. Once this is done, the burden of proof shifts to the plaintiff, who must show that the employee was directly or indirectly encouraged to serve someone showing signs of intoxication. Examples of direct encouragement include being rewarded for breaking the law while indirect encouragement might be a failure to punish overservice. As you can imagine, this can be difficult to prove.

Anyone injured in a Texas DUI accident caused by an overserved driver should seek the help of a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer with experience in dram shop litigation can help injured individuals understand their legal rights and determine the best course of action to pursue compensation for their injuries.

What to Do if You Are Injured by a Drunk Driver in Texas

If you’re seriously injured by a drunk driver who was overserved at a bar, there are several steps you should take to protect your rights and seek compensation for your injuries:

  • Seek Medical Attention: The first priority should be to seek medical attention for any injuries sustained in the accident, even if they seem minor.
  • Contact the Police: It’s important to contact the police and file a report so that there is an official record of the accident. The police can also assess the driver for evidence of intoxication.
  • Gather Evidence: Collect as much evidence as possible at the scene of the accident. This includes the names and contact information of any witnesses, photos of the accident scene, and the driver’s information.
  • Contact an Experienced Dram Shop Attorney: Contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in handling drunk driving cases and dram shop lawsuits.

Once you hire legal representation, they will investigate the case, gathering evidence such as witness statements, surveillance footage, and bar receipts. If necessary, your drunk driving accident attorney may also work with experts such as accident reconstructionists and medical professionals to establish legal liability and the full extent of your injuries.

Once the evidence has been collected and analyzed, the lawyer can negotiate with the bar’s insurance company to seek a fair settlement that covers your damages. If a fair settlement cannot be reached, they may file a lawsuit to pursue compensation through the court system.

Overall, working with a skilled drunk driving accident attorney is highly recommended for anyone injured in a drunk driving accident in Texas, particularly when a bar manager tries to deny Dram shop liability under the Safe Harbor Act. With the right legal representation, injured individuals can protect their rights, hold negligent parties accountable, and pursue the compensation they deserve.

Get a Free Consultation With an Experienced Dram Shop Attorney

The Texas Dram Shop Act is an important law that aims to prevent drunk driving accidents and hold negligent parties accountable. However, bar and liquor store owners may attempt to assert a Safe Harbor defense, making it challenging for anyone injured in such an accident to seek compensation.

At the Villarreal & Begum, LAW GUNS, our Austin Dram shop lawyers understand the intricacies of this complex area of law and can help ensure that your rights are protected. Whether negotiating a settlement or taking a case to trial, we are committed to achieving the best possible outcome for our clients. If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident in Texas and believe that a bar or establishment may be liable, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.