Dram Shop Liability

By Tim Brandenburg

Sometimes we hear the term “dram shop” used in the personal injury arena.  A dram shop case is one in which a drunk person is served too much alcohol and injures somebody, and suit is brought against the provider of the alcohol in addition to the drunk driver.

The elements of a dram shop cause of action are: 1) the defendant, who had a TABC license, sold or served an alcoholic beverage to an adult recipient, OR the defendant, who did not have a TABC license, sold an alcoholic beverage to an adult recipient; 2) when the adult recipient was obviously intoxicated at the time the beverage was provided; and 3) the recipient’s intoxication proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.

The key in a dram shop case lies in being able to prove that, at the time the alcoholic beverage was provided, it was apparent that the recipient of the alcoholic beverage(s) was obviously intoxicated to the extent the recipient presented a clear danger to him or herself and others.  This proof can come in the form of direct evidence or circumstantial evidence.

Direct evidence includes, among other things, the amount of alcohol served (e.g., at least $108 worth of alcohol for two people, approximately 15 drinks in two hours, etc.), physical cues (e.g., disorientation, impaired balance, lack of muscular coordination, staggered gait, slurred speech, etc.), changes in emotion or behavior (e.g., loud, obnoxious and inappropriate conduct) and witness testimony that the recipient’s intoxicated condition was obvious to everyone (e.g., companion said recipient stumbled on dance floor, was unsteady on his feet, had slurred speech and had bloodshot eyes).

Circumstantial evidence includes testimony from a police officer (testimony as to elevated blood level) and testimony the provider had often provided intoxicated customers with alcoholic beverages, among other things.

Because facts are so important in prosecuting a dram shop case, it is critical that a person injured by a drunk driver contact an experienced firm with board-certified personal injury attorneys on its staff, such as Bailey & Galyen, that will provide aggressive investigation to secure the necessary evidence for a successful claim.  Failing to promptly investigate these claims may result in evidence being destroyed and possibly compromise the ability to make a recovery against the alcoholic beverage provider. So act now.

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