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Texas Drivers Should Exercise Caution During the Holidays: Be Merry, But Look Out for the Other Guy

As the Holidays approach, in addition to the various Christmas Parties, Hanukah gatherings, and other festive celebrations, many holiday observers are enjoying a merry good time at local pubs and taverns. While there is nothing wrong with responsible alcohol use, many times the holiday spirit invites excess imbibing.

Alcohol related injury accidents and fatal collisions are always higher in this season, and in San Antonio and the surrounding areas the numbers are frightening. In one study, the Texas Department of Public Safety found that alcohol use was investigated in nearly one-half of all fatal wrecks in Texas.

In many instances, wrecks caused by intoxicated drivers can leave a family devastated. If an individual becomes intoxicated, not only can a claim for negligence be brought against that person (seeking compensation for losses from the individual’s liability insurance policy) but in many circumstances a bar or other licensed establishment that sold alcohol to an individual that was already obviously intoxicated may be liable to an injured victim or the family of a person fatally injured in a car accident. If a driver failed to carry liability insurance, or if they did not carry enough insurance to cover the losses, the injured victim may need to seek fair recovery for their losses from their own insurance (if they had purchased uninsured/underinsured motorist protection) or from the establishment selling alcohol to a person that was already intoxicated.

Dram Shop liability (when a licensed establishment provides alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person) has its basis in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. To establish liability against a provider of alcohol under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, a victim must prove that the bar or pub provided alcohol to a person that was already obviously intoxicated to a point where they presented a clear danger to themselves and others. Further, it must be shown that the intoxication was apparent to the server that provided the alcohol. Under Texas law, this statute does not absolve the intoxicated driver; it merely allows the courts to evaluate the wrongful conduct of a provider of alcohol to determine their responsibility in creating the dangerous situation and putting the intoxicated driver on the road only after profiting from the sale of these beverages.

Unlike “for profit” providers of alcohol, Texas law does not place liability on “social hosts.” A social host (for instance, someone having a party at their house where alcohol is served) is not liable if a guest imbibes too much and injures or kills someone while driving under the influence of alcohol. Only licensed establishments face liability for serving someone that is already obviously intoxicated. The one exception in the area of “social host” liability, and a situation where a private individual may be held liable, is if alcohol is served to a person under the age of 18. If a minor is served alcohol, and causes injury or death, the person providing the alcohol can be held liable – except if the server was the minor’s parent, guardian or spouse. The persons are immune, even if they provide alcohol to a minor.

Texas law does have some protections, even if they don’t all make sense, for those families impacted by persons being served even after they are obviously intoxicated and then sent out onto the roadways placing the traveling public at risk.