Dram Shop 101: Are Bars Responsible for their Patrons' Decisions?

In December of 2012, two Dallas Cowboys players got drunk together in a local bar. When they left the establishment, Josh Brent got behind the wheel and caused a crash that killed fellow Cowboy Jerry Brown. Brent’s criminal case concluded in 2014 when he was found guilty of intoxication manslaughter for the crash, but the conclusion of a recent civil case against him raises questions about civil liabilities for bar owners and restaurateurs.

What are dram shop laws?

Jerry Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, sued to hold responsible the club that served her son and teammate Josh Brent under the Texas dram shop law. A “dram shop” is any drinking establishment. Dram shop laws hold these establishments responsible for injuries caused by drinking too much alcohol. Basically, dram shop laws establish that a bar can be held financially responsible for injuries to patrons if such injuries are the result of being over-served. These laws allow individuals to seek recovery damages from bar owners in the event of injury or death resulting from being served too much alcohol. Dram shop cases are even more complex than collision cases involving someone else's negligence.

Wait. Why is Josh Brent not the only party responsible for Brown’s death?

While people should take responsibility for their own actions and mistakes, dram shop laws are in place for a reason. They exist to protect the community and to encourage bar owners to put patron and community safety above profits. If it can be shown that a staff member witnessed or should’ve witnessed behavior or excessive drinking that suggested intoxication, the bar should be held liable as well.

Jerry Brown also could have gotten behind the wheel of the car that night. Perhaps the result would have been different. Perhaps not. But, even if the drivers had been different, the negligence of the bar in violating its own policies regarding bottle service and over-serving its patrons was still a major factor in the deadly crash. 

If you've been injured by someone else's negligence in a car crash, there are certain steps you should always take to protect your rights. Our post, Top 5 Tips to Avoid Losing Big in a Car Crash, offers even more insight.

I own a bar. How should I protect myself?

In dram shop cases, it’s not uncommon for servers and bartenders at the establishment to not even remember serving the individual patron in question, especially if the bar was busy. If you own a bar or restaurant and serve alcohol, you know it’s a huge responsibility. Having servers and bartenders who are TABC certified is a great step to protecting your business as is taking smart steps to help your patrons avoid intoxication – even simple things like serving water with alcoholic drinks, providing a small bites menu and to some degree monitoring the amount of alcohol consumed. If servers and bartenders witness drunken behavior, they should stop serving the patron and call them a cab. In the event of a lawsuit against your establishment, if servers and bartenders were TABC certified and no one witnessed drunken behavior, the bar will stay in the better position.

Even businesses that don't serve alcohol need to be aware of their potential for liability. Our post Injured at a Local Business? Who Takes Responsibility? offers some insight.

I was hurt in a drunk driving crash. What do I do?

If you or someone you know has been injured in a drunk driving accident, you may be able to recover damages in a dram shop case. Proving that a bar was negligent in its practices in Texas can be challenging. Contact our office at 972-ASK-CHAD for a consultation to walk through your case if you have been hurt because of a bar’s negligence.

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