If you are looking for an experienced dram shop lawyer, there are very few individuals who have as much proven skill handling dram shop liability cases as Richard Mithoff. In fact, through their cases, Richard and the team at Mithoff Law have played an integral role in shaping Texas dram shop laws as they are understood today.
Get a brief overview of Texas dram shop laws and discover how Mithoff Law has worked over the decades to hold negligent parties accountable in cases involving these laws.
What is a dram shop violation?
Every year, over 1,000 Texans are killed in accidents involving alcohol. These accidents are devastating to the individuals involved as well as their families. Businesses including bars, restaurants, retail stores and liquor stores (called “providers” in dram shop parlance) can play a role in causing these accidents if they are negligent. Texas dram shop laws are in place to help hold these businesses accountable if they were negligent in their duties when selling or serving alcohol to underage or intoxicated individuals.
What is an example of a dram shop law violation?
- Serving or selling alcohol to a minor
- Serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, regardless of age
- Encouraging a visibly intoxicated person to continue drinking
- Continuously serving liquor so that it created a substantial risk of death
- Allowing a visibly intoxicated patron to leave a bar, restaurant, or other establishments where alcohol is served or sold
These are classic examples of dram shop law violations. However, our firm has brought cases involving parties that don’t always fit within these standard parameters, including car rental companies.
Keep in mind that Texas does not currently recognize “social host liability,” i.e. liability that occurs when one adult provides an alcoholic beverage to a second adult within their home. For the most part, Texas dram shop laws apply to individuals and businesses with Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission certification.
Our work in this field predates the 1987 Texas Dram Shop Act
Texas dram shop laws were solidified only recently by the Texas Dram Shop Act in 1987. That year, a major dram shop case — El Chico Corp. v. Poole (732 S.W.2d 306 (1987)) — was brought before the Texas Supreme Court. El Chico v. Poole loosely established that bars could be held liable if their service contributed to an accident. Aware that this new precedent left alcohol-selling/serving places of business too open to being sued, the Texas government worked quickly to create legislative guidelines and boundaries for these case types. The Texas Dram Shop Act (contained in the Alcoholic Beverage Code) was the result.
Meanwhile, Houston personal injury attorney Richard Mithoff had already been representing clients with cases involving the type of accidents that would eventually be aided by dram shop liability laws.
One case of note involved a Houston teen who suffered serious injuries, including life-altering brain damage, in a car accident on Dec. 23, 1984. The boy had been riding with an underaged friend who was intoxicated and who had recently purchased alcohol from a local 7-Eleven convenience store, when the car crashed into a light pole. The mother of the injured teen sued both the father of the intoxicated driver, whom she alleged should not have allowed his son to drive drunk, as well as the convenience store.
At the time, this suit was unique. There was no legislation in place, nor was there any history of successfully making claims against a business when the liquor was consumed off the premises. The original suit amount was for $12.5 million but was settled for a confidential amount outside of court.
Our continued litigation and advocacy for clients affected by violations of Texas dram shop laws
Over the decades, Mithoff law has tirelessly represented clients whose lives were affected by violations of dram shop laws. Some of these cases involved damage claims numbering in the tens of millions; others have broadened the implications of Texas dram shop laws to include businesses not typically associated with dram shop liability.
Take, for example, one case that began on Nov. 28, 2000, when Progressive County Mutual Insurance Co. arranged a car rental for a policy holder whose license had recently been suspended for DWI just a month before. The day after receiving the car, the policy holder was intoxicated and involved in a high-speed crash with a 56-year-old Houston woman. The woman’s Toyota hit a light pole and burst into flames. She burned alive at the scene. Her family pursued damages.
The case is, among other things, a useful example of how many parties can be involved in a dram shop lawsuit. The suit not only pursued Progressive, which arranged the rental, but also filed claims against Enterprise Leasing Co. (the rental agency), the driver himself, and Toyota. In the end, the jury found that Progressive was liable for 20 percent of the damages, Enterprise was liable for 20 percent, and the driver was liable for 60 percent. The jury awarded the woman’s family $24.7 million in damages, although the family settled out of court with Enterprise and Toyota prior to the verdict for an undisclosed sum.
This case was hardly a clear-cut dram shop liability case; it required experience in general liability law, defective products, DWI law, and more. And, at the time, no other verdict in Texas had held an insurance company and rental car company that had a business relationship jointly liable for negligence. It’s Mithoff’s ability to litigate and successfully present this type of complex cases that has won him recognition again and again for being one of the nation’s top lawyers.
Work with a firm that has extensive experience handling dram shop liability cases
Texas dram shop laws are meant to hold establishments liable for selling alcohol to obviously intoxicated or underage patrons, but handling dram shop liability cases isn’t always straightforward. When dram shop cases are unusually complex, other law firms refer their clients to Mithoff Law for quality, proven representation.
If you or someone you love was injured or killed due to a violation of Texas dram shop laws, call us at 713-654-1122 to schedule a consultation today.
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