I am preparing to travel to Austin next week to meet with the dedicated people at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to discuss the different ways we as volunteers can help families who are the victims of needless tragedies. At the same time, I have been focused for the last few days on a case where a drunk driver entered into a bar and was served alcohol until he became obviously drunk to those present, and yet continued to be served. Shortly after he left, he failed to look both ways and ran his car into my client. My client has now been in a coma for nearly 6 weeks and there is no clear prognosis.
I wanted to discuss the law in Texas as it relates to bars who over serve customers despite being aware that the customer is a clear danger to themselves and others.
The Texas Dram Shop Act became law in 1987. Before its enactment, Texas law did not impose liability on sellers of alcohol who “over-served” intoxicated patrons. In passing the Dram Shop Act, the Legislature provided the exclusive remedy for liability resulting from injuries caused by a provider’s negligence in serving persons who are “obviously intoxicated” to the point that they are a clear danger to themselves and others. The Act was intended to represent a balancing between the need to protect the public from over-service, and the desire to protect providers from litigation. However, it also provides a defense for the bar.
The “Safe Harbor” Defense
Section 106.14 of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) provides:
(a) For purposes of this chapter and any other provision of this Code relating to the sales, service, dispensing, or delivery of alcoholic beverages to a minor or an intoxicated person or the consumption of alcoholic beverages by a minor or an intoxicated person, the actions of an employee shall not be attributable to the employer if:
(1) the employer requires its employees to attend a commission-approved seller training program;
(2) the employee has actually attended such a training program; and
(3) the employer has not directly or indirectly encouraged the employee to violate such law.
Enjoy yourself this weekend. But be smart, be respectful to those around you and place safety above all else.