SXSW Accident Draws Attention to Texas Dram Shop Laws

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The recent tragedy at Austin's SXSW highlights the difficulties victims of drunk driving accidents face in the midst of Texas Dram Shop laws, local personal injury attorneys in Austin point out.

Austin Personal Injury Lawyer

Austin personal injury attorney and Carlson Law Firm Partner, Robert Ranco points out some of the problems drunk driving accident victims face in relation to Texas Dram Shop laws.

Dram Shop laws in Texas have gone beyond being ‘Pro Business’ and have become ‘Anti-Victim.’ Unfortunately, it may take a tragedy like this one to shine a light on the unfairness of the applicable laws.

National attention has been on Austin all week due to the hugely popular South By Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film and Interactive Festival.

Unfortunately, a tragic event heightened the attention on Austin and the festival when Rashad Charjuan Owens allegedly plowed through a crowd of people outside of The Mohawk Bar who were waiting to see a show. Recent news reports state that three people were killed and more than 23 others were injured (KVUE, March 17, 2014).

Naturally, victims, bystanders, loved ones and law enforcement were all left asking questions regarding the tragic pedestrian accident and what can be done to help victims and prevent future, similar tragedies.

It may be some time before all the details are known, but victims of such an accident may very well be left with inadequate means to be compensated for their losses, Austin Personal Injury Attorney and Carlson Law Firm Partner, Robert Ranco reveals.

With so many dead and injured, the financial losses (medical bills, funeral expenses, and property) will be substantial. Claims for wrongful death, loss of consortium and other non-economic damages would multiply the losses. In Texas, drivers are only required to carry liability insurance totaling $60,000 per accident, but may carry more coverage, Ranco reveals.

Local and National news indicated that the suspect is accused of being intoxicated at the time of the collision, and that he had at least one prior drunk driving conviction (AP, March 15, 2014).

With a plethora of bars and restaurants in the region where the accident occurred, Texas Dram Shop laws come into question, provoking a closer look at standards governing alcohol service and visible over-consumption of alcohol in Austin and Texas-wide establishments.

In situations where a patron is over served and becomes visibly intoxicated at a bar or restaurant, there are several factors tied to whether the establishment is responsible and can be held financially accountable for the injuries, death and loss associated with over serving alcohol within their business.

“If a patron is over-served by an establishment that possesses a Texas alcoholic beverage license, beyond the point where he or she are an obvious danger to themselves and others, and then they get behind the wheel of a vehicle, a business can be held responsible for the consequences resulting,” Ranco points out.

According to the personal injury law firm, in such an instance, Texas law allows the victims of a drunk driving accident or alcohol related accident to pursue a claim for “Dram Shop” liability against the bar for breaching their duty.

“Texas bars can – BUT ARE NOT REQUIRED – to purchase liquor liability insurance coverage for such a loss,” Ranco says. “If the bar fails to purchase the coverage, the victims of an alcohol related accident may be left with only the driver’s policy to cover all of the damage.”

According to the Austin law firm, if the bar does have coverage, they are protected by many provisions that may limit or eliminate the ability of the victims to recover any meaningful compensation.

“Merely proving that a driver WAS drunk while continuing to be served alcohol at the bar is not enough,” Ranco reveals. “Instead, the victims will have to prove that a driver looked clearly drunk while continuing to be served alcohol. This can be difficult evidence to obtain without video surveillance evidence or eyewitness testimony.”

In Texas, until 2007, bars that were found to be responsible for over-serving patrons who caused collisions or harm were liable for the full damage to the victims, along with the driver. That all changed, however, when the Texas Supreme Court rule on in the FFP Partners v. Duenez case (Case No. 02-0381, Supreme Court of Texas). Since then, according to Texas laws, the bar is only responsible for the percentage of the damages that a jury assesses to the bar.

“This was a controversial ruling at the time, and has made prosecuting Dram Shop cases much more difficult,” Robert Ranco points out. “The main problem is that individuals oftentimes have limited liability coverage, while the bar would have much more coverage to take care of the (often) serious damages that result from DWI accidents.”

As a result victims are often left with little resolution, both for the financial crisis resulting nor their medical bills and transformed health and wellness.

“And this is where the victims of many drunk driving accidents are left: with no responsible party to take care of their serious damages, nor to validate and honor the losses of life, limb and happiness,” the Austin attorney notes.

“Dram Shop laws in Texas have gone beyond being ‘Pro Business’ and have become ‘Anti-Victim.’ Unfortunately, it may take a tragedy like this one to shine a light on the unfairness of the applicable laws,” Ranco declared.

For more information about Dram Shop laws in Texas, Partner Robert Ranco and The Carlson Law Firm, call 800-359-5690 or visit

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Carissa Hampton
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