I Was Hit by a Drunk Driver: Who Is Liable for the Accident?
Generally, there are three common parties who can be held legally liable for a drunk driving collision:
- The Drunk Driver
- The Bar or Restaurant That Served the Driver Alcoholic Beverages
- The Social Host Who Gave the Driver Alcoholic Beverages
If you need to speak with skilled auto collision attorneys in Sugar Land, Richmond and Katy, TX, Reed & Terry, LLP can help build a strong case for you.
Keep in mind that while these are the three most common parties who might be held liable, accidents can be complicated and could involve other parties. For instance, what happens if you get into an accident with a large truck operated by an intoxicated trucker? Or what about a car crash in Houston caused by a drunk Uber or Lyft driver?
Let’s first unpack the three parties above and any applicable Texas laws. We’ll then pivot to examine some additional parties who may have played a role in a drunk driving collision and who can be held liable.
1. The Drunk Driver
Drinking and driving is against the law, which is why drunk drivers can be held legally liable for causing auto accidents.
Can I Sue a Drunk Driver for a Car Accident?
In addition to criminal penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI), a drunk driver can also face civil penalties for any damage or losses they caused. This includes being ordered to pay for property damage, lost wages, medical bills, future medical costs and pain and suffering.
Establishing Liability in a Car Accident Case
If you bring a car accident lawsuit against a drunk driver, you will need to demonstrate that they were liable for the crash. Key factors in establishing legal liability:
- The Defendant Had a Legal Duty to the Plaintiff - In this context, this simply means the legal responsibility to abide by the rules of the road. Drivers have a legal duty to operate vehicles only when they are sober.
- The Defendant Breached Their Duty - This means that the drunk driver failed to abide by their duty. Driving while impaired by alcohol is a clear breach of duty.
- The Defendant’s Breach of Duty Led to Damages - Finally, it must be shown that by breaching their duty, the drunk driver caused injury to the plaintiff.
During a free case review at our law offices in Sugar Land, Richmond and Katy, we can review the circumstances of your case and let you know about your legal options.
In the state of Texas, third parties who served someone an alcoholic beverage can be held liable for drunk driving collisions. Let’s look at dram shop and social host laws.
2. The Bar or Restaurant That Served the Driver Alcoholic Beverages
The Texas Dram Shop Act was signed into law in 1987 following the El Chico vs. Poole case in Texas Supreme Court, which involved a fatal drunk driving car accident in 1983.
Dram shop law allows people to sue bars, restaurants and other establishments licensed to sell alcohol when drunk patrons cause injury.
Texas Dram Shop Law
Texas dram shop law essentially states that bars and licensed establishments can be held liable if these conditions are met:
- The establishment continued to serve the drunk patron alcohol
- The patron was obviously intoxicated and posed a danger to themself and others
- The intoxication was the immediate cause of any damage that occurred
Rather than just facing a fine from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for continuing to serve a severely intoxicated individual, the bar can now be sued for not helping to prevent a crash. This encourages bartenders and servers at restaurants and bars to cut people off when it’s clear they’ve had too much to drink.
An Example of Dram Shop Liability
Say that a man decided to go to a bar after work. The man has several beers, which leads to slurred speech and other signs of intoxication. The bartender continues to serve the man even though he is clearly drunk. The man stumbles out of the bar and starts to drive home drunk, causing a fatal accident on the highway.
In this scenario, it is possible for the surviving family members to file a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a loved one against the bar.
3. The Social Host Who Gave the Driver Alcoholic Beverages
Social host laws are similar to dram shop laws. Instead of bars and alcohol retailers, these laws involve people who are hosting parties where alcohol is being served. In such cases, the host may be held liable for the actions of intoxicated party guests who cause harm to themselves or others.
Underage Drunk Drivers and Social Host Laws
Social host laws apply when:
- The party host is 21 years old or older
- The alcohol is provided to minors who are under 18 years old
In other words, social host laws in Texas are meant to help deter the distribution of alcohol to minors. Adults (people age 18 and older) who drink or overdrink are typically held liable for their own actions, even if they are not of legal drinking age.
Other Potential Exceptions to Social Host Laws
Additional exceptions may apply if the minor is related to the host or if guests were charged money to drink alcohol. There may also be a legal argument for third-party liability if a party host noticed a drunk guest and did not attempt to prevent the intoxicated guest from drunk driving.
A lawyer can review what happened at the gathering and determine who should be held liable under existing Texas third-party liability laws.
Auto accidents aren’t always cut and dry.
Let’s now look at some other drunk driving crash scenarios and who may be held liable.
Drunk Commercial Vehicle Drivers: Who Is Held Liable in a Lawsuit?
When you think of DWI charges, you don't usually think of big-rig drivers, moving truck drivers or other people operating commercial vehicles. However, these drivers can also abuse alcohol while behind the wheel. Even a small amount of alcohol could mean legal liability if they caused or were involved in a crash.
A Different Standard for Drunk Driving
For non-commercial drivers, a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 is the legal limit. Commercial drivers such as truckers are held to a different standard while they are on the job.
The legal limit for commercial drivers is a BAC of .04. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) set this lower BAC for commercial drivers to ensure public safety.
Can I Sue the Trucking Company for a Drunk Driving Accident?
That depends on the nature of the case and the collision.
The truck driver could be sued for driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, the trucking company can also be held responsible if the driver had a history of drunk driving or reckless behaviors that were not considered during the hiring process.
When going over your case in a complimentary consultation, attorney Travis Terry and I will help determine who should be held responsible for the commercial vehicle collision.
Intoxicated Uber and Lyft Drivers: What Happens in Rideshare DWI Crash?
More and more people are using rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft to avoid drunk driving. This is particularly helpful for getting around on evenings and weekends in the Houston area. Unfortunately, the driver of your rideshare vehicle may be intoxicated.
Whether you’re a passenger in the rideshare vehicle or a motorist or pedestrian struck by a drunk Uber driver, you may wonder who you can sue.
Can I Sue Uber or Lyft for Having a Drunk Rideshare Driver?
This gets tricky.
Uber and Lyft drivers are not employees of these companies but are instead independent contractors. There may be limited legal actions you can take against Uber or Lyft in an accident, but it really depends on the nature of the crash.
As with trucking company liability, Uber or Lyft are responsible for hiring safe drivers who do not have a history of DWI or reckless driving. Poor hiring or screening practices could be grounds for a liability lawsuit against a rideshare company.
Can I Be Held Legally Liable for a Crash with a Drunk Driver Even If I Was Sober?
Yes, but it really depends on the cause or causes of the collision.
Technically, the drunk driver has already breached their legal duty by being intoxicated behind the wheel. However, if you were being negligent and this negligence contributed to the crash, you could be viewed as liable regardless of sobriety.
For example, say a sober driver runs a red light and gets into a T-bone crash in an intersection with a drunk driver who was abiding by the rules of the road. The sober driver would be at fault because of running a red light even though the other driver was above the legal limit.
Understanding Texas Proportionate Responsibility Laws
With this in mind, Texas does have a proportionate responsibility law that uses a form of modified comparative fault. In the most basic terms, a jury may award a plaintiff no damages if the jury finds the plaintiff is 51% to blame for a crash.
As we review your case, we can explore how proportionate responsibility could be a factor in your lawsuit against a drunk driver.
Vehicle Defects and Design Flaws That Contribute to a Collision
Sometimes intoxication isn’t the only factor in a vehicle crash. Collisions can also be the result of car defects or dangerous vehicle components. This includes faulty brake systems or tires, locked steering wheels or malfunctioning turn signals. These features could have all played a role in preventing a collision, regardless of a motorist’s intoxication.
An accident investigation will be necessary to properly identify the cause of an auto accident. If there is enough supporting evidence, we can pursue a product liability lawsuit against a negligent car company or the makers of a vehicle part if they played a role in a drunk driving accident.
Self-Driving Cars with Intoxicated Passengers: Who Is Liable in a Crash?
Autonomous vehicles can theoretically operate themselves, but they still require someone behind the wheel. This is to ensure that a person can apply the brakes or take control of the wheel should the self-driving car malfunction.
A person who is drunk or intoxicated while in the driverless vehicle could be held liable for the collision.
Liability in Autonomous Vehicle Crashes Is Complicated
We wrote “could be” rather than “will be” since liability in self-driving car crashes is complex. The owner of the driverless vehicle and the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle may also have some share of responsibility, depending on the nature of the auto accident.
We covered legal liability in self-driving car accidents on this blog earlier in the year. I encourage you to read that post if you’d like further information.
Why a Lawyer Is Crucial After an Accident with a Drunk Driver
Many factors come into play during an auto accident case. You may be busy recovering from injuries, helping loved ones return to normal routines or grieving for a loved one killed by a drunk driver.
A dedicated car accident lawyer can handle the legal aspects. They will make sure important deadlines are met, and explain the next steps you need to take.
While your attorney focuses on the legal details, and the negotiations with insurance providers and the drunk driver’s lawyers, you can focus on healing. Ultimately, a drunk driving accident lawyer offers peace of mind and invaluable legal insight.
How the Team at Reed & Terry Can Help You
Reed & Terry, LLP has represented injury victims in and around Fort Bend County and Harris County since 1994. We are proud to serve clients from Houston as well as the neighboring communities west of Houston where our law offices are located.
As skilled personal injury attorneys, we bring decades of knowledge to every case.
You owe us nothing unless and until we win.
- Free Legal Consultations - You don’t have to pay us to discuss your case and get sound legal counsel from seasoned personal injury attorneys.
- Contingency Fee Representation - You won’t owe us any attorney fees unless we can reach a successful settlement or civil trial verdict.
Over the years, we have secured millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients. We are here to fight for you.
Were You Hit By a Drunk Driver?
Contact Our Car Accident Attorneys Today
If you or a loved one were involved in a crash with a drunk or intoxicated driver, be sure to contact our injury accident law firm.
About Jackson R. Reed
Attorney Jackson R. Reed has served clients since 1994. He is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA), the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA), and the State Bar of Texas.