Can a Bar be Held Responsible for an Injury by a Drunk Driver?

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Drunk driving accidents are incredibly terrifying.  When they happen, it is no surprise that victims want to receive justice in every way possible.  This sometimes includes holding more people responsible beyond just the drunk driver themselves.  Under certain circumstances, the bar, restaurant, or person who served the drunk driver alcohol may be partially liable.

As a recovering victim of a drunk driving accident, you should not have to suffer through the legal process alone.  Especially when trying to hold both an establishment and a drunk driver responsible for your injuries.  Our attorneys at Zinda Law Group have experience handling drunk driving claims and may help you seek compensation from the responsible parties.

If you or a loved one has been hit a drunk driver and is interested in pursuing legal action against a bar or other establishment, call Zinda Law Group at (512) 246 2224 for a 100% free case evaluation with a Texas drunk driving attorney today.

Bar Owner Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents

If a drunk driver has injured you and you can prove that the driver was intoxicated after purchasing alcohol in a bar, you may have a claim against the bar.  However, it is important to know that the ability to file this type of claim is heavily dependent on evidence and circumstances.

Every state has their own version of what they refer to as a “dram shop law”.  Dram shop cases involve filing a lawsuit against an establishment for knowingly selling alcohol to someone they knew or should have known was already intoxicated.  In Texas, dram shop laws only apply to “providers” of alcohol, which means anyone selling alcohol with a license or permit.

A bar, restaurant, or another establishment can be held liable in a dram shop case in two main ways.  First, they can be liable to the drunk driver themselves if the drunk patron was personally injured after visiting the establishment.

Under this theory, the drunk driver is saying that if it was not for the bar selling them the alcohol, they would not have been injured.  However, this type of dram case is difficult to win because insurance companies and/or juries usually don’t buy into the idea that a bar is responsible for someone’s personal choice to get himself or herself drunk.

The second type of dram shop case occurs when the injured party is someone else other than the drunk driver.  This is known as a third-party dram shop case.  An example of this situation is if a drunk driver hits you and then you would like to sue the bar that drunk driver was at earlier because you believe the bar was negligent in serving the drunk driver alcohol.

Other Parties That Can be held Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents

Texas law provides that there are certain situations where even social hosts may be liable for providing alcohol to someone who later caused injury to a third party.

Social hosts include people who are providing alcohol freely without a legal permit or license to do so.  If you have ever hosted a dinner party where you served wine, you have been a social host.  In Texas specifically, social hosts may only be liable in a drunk driving accident if they are 21 years or older, have served alcohol to a minor, and at the time they served the alcohol to the minor they knew the person they were serving was dangerously intoxicated. If a social host charges a fee for alcohol they are no longer a social host.  If any money is exchanged, the social host may be liable under the same standards as a bar or restaurant.

Establishing Liability

In order to prove liability in a dram shop case, you need to be able to prove that the bar or restaurant served alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person.  You would need to be able to show that the drunk driver who hit you was so clearly intoxicated that the bar or restaurant knew or should have known that continuing to serve them alcohol was likely to further the risk of danger to the driver or to someone else.  Responsible serving of alcohol includes not serving alcohol to someone you know is intoxicated, cutting those off who are intoxicated, finding them a safe ride home, and not serving alcohol to minors.

Even if an establishment is found liable in a drunk driving case, this typically doesn’t mean the blame will fall solely on the bar or restaurant.  Drunk drivers still need to be held personally accountable.  In Texas, a licensed establishment is only liable for its percentage of responsibility in the accident.

For example, if a jury determines a bar was only 40% responsible in a drunk driving case, they may only be liable for 40% of your damages.  The drunk driver will be responsible for the remainder.  The drunk driver may be found solely liable if the bar can establish that they served alcohol in a safe and lawful manner.

Alcohol Laws

A non-commercial driver over the age of 21 is considered legally drunk in Texas if their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.  For commercial drivers, the legal limit for alcohol consumption is a blood alcohol level less than .04.  Texas law has zero-tolerance when it comes to minors driving under the influence.  Drivers who are under the age of 21 are considered legally drunk if there is any amount of alcohol in their system.

The first time you are cited for a DUI in Texas, you may be faced with paying a maximum fine of $2,000 or you may be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail.  Sometimes you may be required to do both.  These penalties increase with each additional DUI.

Texas additionally requires that anyone arrested for a DUI submit to a blood or breath test.  If you refuse, your license may be suspended anywhere from 180 days to 2 years depending on how many offenses you have on your record.

Common Drunk Driving Accidents and Injuries

Driving while under the influence of alcohol can cause catastrophic results.  Alcohol has been proven to impair a driver’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time behind the wheel.  Some of the common types of accidents caused by drunk drivers include:

  • Head-on collisions
  • Rear-end collisions
  • Wrong-way collisions
  • Hitting a pedestrian

Drunk driving accidents can be very serious and can cause a multitude of injuries, both minor and severe.  A few of these injuries include:

  • Head injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal injuries
  • Neck injuries
  • Broken limbs
  • Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Puncture wounds
  • Emotional trauma

Making a Claim

If you are interested in pursuing legal action against a bar, restaurant, or other establishments, here are a few steps you can take to make a claim:

1. Seek medical attention and report the incident

 In every personal injury action, the most important step to take initially is to seek medical attention for your injuries and report the incident to the police.  Receiving medical treatment ensures that your well-being is being taken care of in addition to creating an official record of your injuries and treatment.  Moreover, an official police report can serve as an important piece of evidence documenting your injuries, your property damage, and the incident in general.

2. Contact an attorney

In dram shop cases there is a lot of investigating that needs to take place in order to determine if you have a claim against a bar or other provider of alcohol.  The best way to make sure that this investigation takes place efficiently and thoroughly is to have an experienced attorney on your side.

4. Investigate the incident

 Once you have secured legal representation, your attorney can work with you to investigate what happened.  This investigation may include speaking with witnesses, reviewing documents such as receipts from the bar or restaurant, and even sometimes reviewing video surveillance footage of the patron drunk driver on the night of the incident.

5. Settlement

 If you can establish that you have a case against a bar or restaurant, the establishment may make you an offer of settlement in order to discourage you from taking legal action.  Your attorney will be able to provide guidance on whether or not the settlement is appropriate, whether you should negotiate further, or if you should decline the offer.

5. Lawsuit

In the event you decline to accept a settlement offer, you will have the option to pursue further legal action by filing a lawsuit and potentially going to court.

Legal Time Limits

Unfortunately, a person seeking compensation in a drunk driving case doesn’t have unlimited time to file a claim.  Each state places a limitation on the amount of time in which you can file a lawsuit for certain types of legal claims.  This is commonly referred to as the statute of limitations.

Under Texas law, you have two years to file a lawsuit in dram shop and social host cases.  You also have two years to file a lawsuit against a drunk driver in a traditional personal injury claim.  In the event you fail to file a claim within this time period, you may lose your ability to seek compensation altogether.


In a dram shop case, you may be able to seek certain economic damages.  Economic damages reimburse an injured party for unexpected expenses that have been incurred as a result of the accident.  These expenses may include medical bills, lost wages, and loss of future earning capacity.

Additionally, victims in a drunk driving dram shop case may be able to seek non-economic damages.  These damages are non-economic because they don’t cover expenses per se, but rather unquantifiable emotional injuries.  This includes monetary compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

The Texas Drunk Driving Injury Lawyers at Zinda Law Group May Help

If you were injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced drunk driving injury lawyer as soon as possible. You shouldn’t have to worry about taking on the legal system alone while struggling with recovery or the loss of a family member.

Call our experienced lawyers today at 303-993-0967 to schedule your free and confidential consultation. Our firm also operates on a contingency basis – this means if we don’t win your case, you won’t owe us a dime.

Meetings with attorneys by appointment only.