One Drink Too Many: How Bars Can Be Liable for Drunk Patrons

In 2017, a Texas man charged into his ex-wife’s home while she was hosting a football watch party, fatally shooting her and seven others. In the United States, where gun violence is at a frightening high, we see stories like this nearly every day, and are often quick to point fingers at the common culprits, like unrestrictive gun laws and poor mental health resources. This tragic case has a unique factor, however: a bartender has been arrested for her role in the shooting.

Prior to the shooting, the gunman showed up at a bar and was clearly intoxicated. According to a lawsuit, he was apparently stumbling around the bar and ran into a picnic table hard enough to move it. He also allegedly displayed erratic behavior, including brandishing a knife. Despite this, a bartender continued to serve him. She allowed him to drink enough that his blood alcohol limit was 0.33 at the time of the shooting, four times the legal limit in Texas. The bartender now faces up to a year in prison, a $500 fine, or both in connection with the shooting.

The Dangers of Intoxication

When a bartender or other service professional overserves a customer, it can have dangerous results. The intoxicated person could fall, suffer from alcohol poisoning, or engage in risky behavior, like improperly using a firearm. Additionally, they could get behind the wheel after drinking, leading to a serious crash.

Though the customer is ultimately responsible for their own decisions, a bar or server might be liable if they:

  • Served someone without requesting proof of age
  • Continued to serve an intoxicated patron
  • Served alcoholic beverages after closing time

Dram Shop Laws

When a bar, restaurant, or other establishment is liable for a customer’s dangerous intoxication, it falls under dram shop law. This term originates from 18th century England, where shops would sell gin by the “dram,” meaning by the spoonful. Most states have dram shop laws, and Florida’s says that:

“a person who sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, except that a person a person who willfully or unlawfully serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is not a lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use or any of all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.”

Finding Justice and Liability

The wording of Florida’s dram shop laws makes it difficult for victims to hold a bar liable. It is generally rare for a bar to be responsible for an accident, injury, or other incident. However, it is not impossible. In one big case in 1999, for example, a family held a football stadium liable for their daughter’s drunk driving death and won a settlement of $135 million.

“Just one more drink” is a very dangerous mindset. It can lead to violence, injuries, or tragic accidents, especially when a bar does not take the proper steps. While they can be very complex, dram shop cases are yet another important example of why everyone should do their part to prevent drunk driving and other dangerous behavior.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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