My Loved One Was Killed by a Drunk Driver. What Happens Now?
Jan. 24, 2023
In 2021, Texas alone had over a thousand deaths caused by drunk drivers — 1,029 to be exact. Drunk driving is arguably one of the most negligent actions a person can do while driving. Not only is it unsafe for the driver, but it also creates unsafe streets for everyone involved, especially other motorists and nearby pedestrians. Too often, innocent victims are maimed, seriously injured or even killed because of these reckless, negligent drunk drivers.
If you lost a loved one in an accident caused a drunk driver, you’re probably overwhelmed with grief and anger, and wondering what your next steps will be. At Rick Davis & Associates Attorneys at Law, I can help you with the legal aspects of your case, from filing a wrongful death claim, fighting for the compensation you deserve and holding the negligent drunk driver responsible.
I understand that thinking about and contemplating the details of your loved one’s death is a distressing task. Please don’t face it alone. If you are in Bryan, Texas, or the surrounding areas of College Station, Brenham, Anderson, Madisonville, Caldwell, Washington County, Grimes County, Burleson County, and Madison County, reach out today for compassionate and diligent representation by a lawyer who has been licensed for over 30 years and has over 8 years of judicial experience.
Why File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Although the death of a loved one caused by a drunk driver can be difficult to face, filing a wrongful death claim and possibly filing a Plaintiff's Original Petition against the Defendant may help you and your family in several ways. If nothing else, we can confront the responsible party, hold that person accountable, a may help to prevent the same tragedy from happening to someone else in the future. It can also provide you the financial recovery that you need, to pay for funeral expenses, your loved one's final medical bills, compensate you for the loss of a family breadwinner's income, for the physical pain and suffering and mental anguish that your loved one may have suffered between the moment of the accident and actually dying, and more. Although it won’t bring your loved one back, a wrongful death claim may help you get the closure you need.
Who Can File?
Under Texas law, there are several family members and others that are legally eligible to file a wrongful death claim, including:
The surviving spouse of the deceased
Children of the deceased
Parents of the deceased
A personal representative (the executor in a person’s will or and administrator of the decedent's estate appointed by the court)
Generally, the personal representative is only allowed to file if direct family members don’t file within three months. However, it’s also important to note that surviving family members have two years after their loved one’s death to file a lawsuit for their wrongful death claim. If they wait until after two years, their claims will likely be barred by the statute of limitations.
Liability for Drunk Driving
The drunk driver may not be the only one who’s responsible for the loss of your loved one. Here is a list of the possible parties who may be held liable for a drunk driving accident that resulted in a loved one's death or injury:
The driver. This is the most obvious person that can be held liable. Although a drunk person may have impaired judgment from consuming too much alcohol, they are still responsible for driving responsibly, and should have sought alternative options to get home before they ever started drinking, such as designating a driver, planning for a ride with Uber or Lyft or setting up a rideshare.
Parents. If the drunk driver was a minor, the driver's parents may be held responsible for their child’s drunk driving for what is called negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment occurs when someone knowingly or willingly lets someone drive a vehicle when they know that the driver is incompetent, consistently negligent or habitually careless.
The establishment that served the drinks. Bars and other restaurants that serve alcohol have a special responsibility toward their patrons and the community at large. If an individual gets drunk, the bartender can and should refuse that person any more service, and the bar staff may need to find someone else to drive the drunk customer home. For example, if a drunk individual states that they’re planning on driving soon to a bartender, the bartender and the bar management may be held responsible for not preventing them from driving.
The employer. Similarly, if the driver’s employer knew the employee would be driving drunk, whether from work or a work party, that employer may be held liable.
Social host liability. While the is generally no social host liability in Texas, if driver under the age of 18 became intoxicated and was served alcohol by a host or someone else who is age 21 or older, the person who served the underaged minor may be liable for the accident.
If you aren’t sure who may be held responsible for the death of your loved one caused by a drunk driver, a wrongful death attorney like Rick Davis can investigate your case and fight to hold those responsible accountable for their actions and negligence.
Dram Shop and Social Liability Laws in Texas
Dram Shop Law
Texas law states that those who are licensed or permitted to serve or sell alcohol can be held liable for damages if four things are true:
A patron got intoxicated at the bar to the point that the patron presented a danger to themselves and others.
The patron drove a motor vehicle.
The patron caused an accident involving death or serious injury.
The patron’s intoxication was the direct cause of damages.
In the case of a drunk driver killing someone, the Plaintiff's lawyer, would have to establish that the drunk driver get intoxicated at a specific establishment (like a bar) to the point that the patron was a clear danger to others.
Social Host Liability Law
In 1993 in a case styled Graff v. Beard - 858 S.W.2d 918 (Tex. 1993), the Texas Supreme Court held that social hosts (i.e. someone who throws a party) who serve alcohol to intoxicated guests will not be held liable if their guests later leave and injure themselves or others. The reasoning behind this ruling is that the Dram Shop Act is a cause of action (i.e. type of claim that can be filed in a Plaintiff's personal injury lawsuit) that was created by statute (i.e. the Texas legislature made it a law in 1987) and not a common law cause of action, any claim under the Texas Dram Shop Act had to meet all of the elements defined in the statute.
However, in 2005, the Texas Legislature amended the Texas Dram Shop Act to include a "social host liability" provision if the host is 21 years old or old and serves a person under 18 years old to the point that the minor gets intoxicated, drives and then hurts or kills someone in a motor vehicle accident. This change in the law does not apply to adults who host a party and serve alcohol to other adults.
This limited social host liability law in Texas states that anyone who is legal drinking age (21 or older) may be held liable for damages caused by a intoxicated minor driver if three things are true:
An adult served a minor younger than 18 years old alcohol.
The adult that provided the alcohol is not the minor’s parent or guardian.
The adult directly provided or allowed the minor to be served alcohol that contributed to the minor’s intoxication.
The intoxicated minor drove and caused an accident resulting in death or serious injury.
In this case, the alcohol provider may be held liable for any death, injuries or other damages caused by the intoxicated minor who drove.
The Statute of Limitations & Possible Damages
Generally, a social host liability or dram shop claim must be filed within two years of the date of the accident.
If individual or establishment like a bar is found to be responsible for damages under the Texas Dram Shop law, some types of damages that they could be required to pay include, but are not limited to, the following:
Medical bills incurred by the injured or deceased person
Funeral and burial expenses, if any
Physical pain and suffering and mental anguish that accident victim suffered
Damage caused to the victim's vehicle
Speak With an Experienced Attorney
You have a right to fight for compensation after losing a loved one due to an accident caused by a drunk driver. At my firm, I understand how to give you the care you deserve while helping you face the negligent driver and fight for your compensation. We serve those thought Bryan, Texas, and the surrounding areas of College Station, Brenham, Anderson, Madisonville, Caldwell, and Washington County, Grimes County, Burleson County, and Madison County. Don’t face this tragedy alone. Reach out today, and we will take control of your anguishing situation so that you can focus on what’s most important: your and your family's healing and adjusting to the profound change in your lives.