What are dram shop and social host liability laws?
In the United States, if you are injured as a result of another individual’s intoxication, you can file a personal injury lawsuit claim against that person. Many people are unaware, however, that (in some situations) you can also sue the establishment (e.g. bar or restaurant) that served alcohol to the person the person who harmed you if it was clear that he or she was already intoxicated or if he or she was a minor. The laws governing the latter are known as “dram shop” laws since “dram” was once a common term for a portion of whiskey.
There are also instances in which you can sue the host of a party who knowingly served alcohol to a minor or to an obviously intoxicated person who then harmed you. These laws vary state to state; this article deals with the pertinent laws in Texas. If you have been injured by a drunk driver in Texas, you should investigate your legal options with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney.
Texas Dram Shop Law
Establishments that sell alcohol in Texas may be held liable for an injury caused by an intoxicated patron, but only under the following conditions:  the alcohol was sold or given to a minor under the age of 18 or  the customer was obviously intoxicated when the alcohol was sold or given, posing “a clear danger” to the safety of self and others. In order for the case to proceed, it must also be evident that the intoxication was the “foreseeable cause” of the injuries incurred.
It is clear, even to a casual observer, that there are many subjective terms in the wording of these laws which make proving a case very difficult. “Obviously intoxicated,” “clear danger,” and “foreseeable cause,” are all phrases open to interpretation.
Signs of Intoxication
Generally, signs of intoxication are considered to be slurred speech, an unsteady gait, clumsy or uncoordinated movements, red eyes, and breath smelling heavily of alcohol. Such signs, however, can be indicators of other physical conditions -- a fact that the defending attorney is likely to use. This is where having an experienced lawyer on your side is essential in proving your case. If the consumer of alcohol is underage, however, all bets are off, and the plaintiff is at a clear advantage. In the case involves serving alcohol to a minor, the dram shop law can be implemented even if the customer does not appear to be intoxicated.
Social Host Liability
Beyond the dram shop law, Texas, like many other states, has a social host liability law which allows a person who has been injured to seek damages from any host over the age of 21 who provides alcohol to a minor who is under the age of 18. There are certain criteria, however, that must be met for this law to be enforceable:  the adult in question must not be the parent, guardian, spouse, or legal custodian of the minor and  that adult must have knowingly served or provided the alcoholic beverage to the minor or allowed the minor to drink on his or her property.
Damage Limits in Dram Shop or Social Host Claims
In Texas, a dram shop or social host liability claim is a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff (the injured party) can file the case against the establishment or individual (the defendant) who provided the alcohol to the intoxicated person. In cases won by the plaintiff, the defendant is found legally responsible for the plaintiff's injuries. Liability means that the defendant owes damages to compensate the plaintiff for whichever of the following apply:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages, including lost future earning capacity
- Lost or damaged property
- Pain and suffering
Time Limits in Dram Shop or Social Host Claims
In Texas, the time limit for all injury claims, including dram shop and social host liability claims, is 2 years from the date the injury occurred.