Suing drunk drivers…and the bars that served them

By Randy Turner

Last year more than 10,000 Americans were killed by drunk drivers. Thousands more suffered catastrophic injuries. Of course, the victim or the victim’s family has a legal claim against the drunk driver, but what happens if the drunk driver doesn’t have liability insurance or has insurance but the policy limits aren’t enough to adequately compensate the victim? (Texas law only requires drivers to carry minimum limits of $30,000 per person). If the drunk driver happened to be on the job at the time of the accident then the victim may also have a claim against the employer. The victim should also look to his or her own automobile insurance policy for “uninsured/underinsured motorist” coverage. This insurance pays when a negligent driver either didn’t have any insurance or didn’t have enough. An experienced personal injury attorney will also investigate the possibility of bringing an action against the bar or establishment that served or sold alcohol to the drunk driver.

Texas Dram Shop Law

Dram shop laws are laws that allow a person who is injured by a drunk driver to bring a claim against the bar, restaurant or person that sold alcohol to the drunk driver before he got on the road. In 1987 the first Texas Dram Shop Act was signed into law as Section 2.02 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. It provides that a person or business is liable for providing, selling or serving an alcoholic beverage to someone if it was “apparent to the provider” that the person was “obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others” and his intoxication was a proximate cause of the damages suffered.

Proportionate responsibility

In 2007 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a business that sells alcohol to a drunk driver is only liable for damages based on its proportion of responsibility. In F.F.P. Operating Partners v. Duenez a convenience store sold a 12-pack of beer to an obviously intoxicated man who then drove his car in the wrong lane and collided head-on with the Duenez family’s car. The family sued the drunk driver, the store and the store clerk. The Supreme Court held that the store’s liability is determined by the percentage of responsibility that the jury assigns to the store. For example, if the jury finds that the drunk driver was 70 percent responsible for the accident and the store was 30 percent responsible, then the store is only liable for 30 percent of the damages caused by the wreck. However, if the jury finds that the store is 51 percent responsible or more, then the store is liable for all of the damages.

Conclusion

Drunk drivers cause thousands of tragic injuries and deaths each year and often do not have enough insurance to adequately compensate their victims. Sometimes an irresponsible bar, restaurant or store provided the alcohol that caused the driver to become intoxicated. The Texas dram shop law gives an experienced personal injury attorney the ability to hold alcohol providers legally accountable for their negligence and make them pay for the damages caused by drunk drivers.

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