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Bars Held Accountable for Overserving Patrons Who Then Drive Drunk

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Under state law, bars can be held liable for the actions of their patrons if it's determined that they were overserved.

Austin police are wrapping up another no refusal weekend. That means people stopped for suspected drunk driving can have blood drawn if they refuse a breathalyzer. But drivers aren't the only people that have to make sure they're following the law: Bars could be liable for overserved customers as well.

State law says bars should not continue to serve drinks to someone who is already intoxicated. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) can conduct what they call a source investigation to find out where the alcohol came from that got someone drunk.

“As part of our enforcement efforts, TABC is able to charge those who serve alcohol to someone who is intoxicated with a crime that could lead to a thousand dollar fine and up to a year in jail,” says Chris Porter of the TABC.

The bar or restaurant isn't immediately in trouble if one of its servers gets caught overserving. But if a single location has repeat violations, the TABC can revoke its liquor license.

“In the case where something happens to a customer, to someone else on the road, say, for example, someone is overserved, and they go out and have a drunk driving accident, there are provisions in place for those retailers to be held liable for anything that may have happened as a result of overserving those patrons,” Porter says.

That provision recently made news in Austin, when 22-year-old Victoria Garcia died in June when she hit a car while driving the wrong way on Ben White Boulevard. The people in the car she hit are now suing Alamo Drafthouse and the Moontower Saloon for allegedly overserving Garcia.

Last session, Rep. Chris Turner (R-Arlington) filed a bill that would’ve required bar owners to purchase liability insurance. Proponents said the requirement would’ve better protected bars from lawsuits like the case of Garcia, while opponents called the proposed requirement was an overreach.

“You have to have insurance to own a home, you have to have insurance to drive a car, and now in this country you’re required to have health insurance with very few exceptions," Turner told the Texas Standard. "In an industry where you’re selling a product that, while completely legal, can, if abused, be a very dangerous product, you should also have liability insurance."

Turner’s bill was hamstrung on the House floor and failed to make it to the Senate.

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