Protection for Bar Owners

Yesterday, I was called upon to address "dram shop" claims, and it reminded me again about the substantial protections the Legislature and courts have attempted to provide to bar owners to reduce their liability.

"Dram shop" cases are claims against sellers of alcohol for the harm caused by patrons who get intoxicated. The Legislature passed Chapter 2 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. It is the exclusive remedy for people who are injured when a drunk customer hurts or kills someone. The code requires proof that the bar served a person who was obviously intoxicated and presented a clear danger to himself and others.

A critically important provision of the code is that it enables a bar owner to escape responsibility for the wrongful acts of its employees. Here is how. Normally, when business' employees do well, the business is allowed to reap the profits. By the same token, if its employees harm someone while working in the "course and scope" of their employment, the business must bear responsibility. This is called "vicarious liability." However, in dram shop cases, unlike virtually every other industry and area of law, the code allows the bar owner to escape liability for "over-serving" an intoxicated customer as long as the waiter has attended an approved seller training course, and the evidence does not reveal an effort by bar to violate the law. This puts all of the liability on the server, who usually will not have the money to pay for the damages caused by the drunk patron, unless the waiter is covered by insurance. This provision of the code works a tremendous injustice upon the innocent, injured person who brings a claim because the company that controls the resources, namely the bar, will not be liable, while the waiter, who often has no available funds, will be responsible. As a result, the injured person is often denied a meaningful opportunity to obtain legal compensation for his damages. In this, and other related ways, the law-which should provide a remedy for those wrongly damaged-instead protects the wrongdoers.

If you or someone you know has been seriously injured or killed in a car accident with a drunk driver, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend today by calling 713-222-7211 or toll free at 1-800-870-8584.

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