Family Sues Texas Bar after Fatal Drunk Driving Crash

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent lawsuit out of Austin, Texas, centering on dram shop laws, which hold bars and servers liable for drunk-driving crashes should that person be knowingly over served. The family of a man killed in Austin is now suing the bar the driver was drinking at before the crash, Lustre Pearl.

In July 2012, 25-year-old Madeline Rackley drove her car down a boat ramp into Lady Bird Lake, believing it to be an on-ramp to I-35. Her car and everyone inside of it submerged underneath the water’s surface. Fortunately, Rackley and the front seat passenger were able to escape in time, however, one back seat passenger, Jarrett Ryan Whittlington, ultimately drowned in the car, unable to escape.

Rackley was legally intoxicated, and was charged with DUI involving manslaughter. Now, Whittlington’s family is filing a wrongful death lawsuit, not against Rackley herself, but against the bar that over served her. Both the bar, Lustre Pearl, and several other bartenders are personally named in the suit. The family alleges that the bartenders knowingly over served Rackley, who was already clearly intoxicated.

This is not the first time Lustre’s bar owner, Dunlap, has been implicated in a wrongful death suit for over serving. In 2011, Dunlap’s Clive Bar was named in a lawsuit filed by the father of a woman who was hit and killed by a drunk driver leaving the bar. The driver admitted to drinking inside Clive Bar during the hours before the fatal incident.

A spokesperson for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission stated that it was going to investigate the issue to determine if responsibility can be assigned. Lustre Pearl’s liquor license could potentially be revoked if it is determined that the bar had any role in the crash.

Whittlington’s family is seeking upwards of $1 million in damages, however, their ultimate hope is that their case will help raise awareness for the owners and operators of bars and restaurants. They want everyone to realize that selling alcoholic beverages to obviously intoxicated patrons is both illegal and mortally dangerous.

In 2004, the Texas Supreme Court decided that the seller of alcohol is jointly liable (along with the drunk driver) only if it is more than 50% responsible for the crash. Dram shop laws (dram shops are defined as any drinking establishment that sells alcoholic beverages) prevent alcohol sellers from serving customers who are clearly intoxicated. If that person is served and later injures or kills someone due to the intoxication, the seller of the alcohol can be held liable for the damages.

Violations of dram shop laws can be a bit difficult to prove, because the victim suffering the injuries (in this case, Whittlington) shoulders the burden of proving the seller actually over served the person. In one recent case in Texas, however, the case was a bit easier to prove.

A man left a Texas strip club one night with a blood alcohol level of 0.295, which is more than three times the legal limit. He had consumed at least 15 drinks at the club that night, and the establishment made no attempt to ensure he was not driving himself home. He was driving at about 130 miles per hour, with his headlights off, when he rear-ended another vehicle. The driver of that car, a high school student, was killed.

The drunk driver is currently serving 15 years for intoxicated manslaughter. It was ultimately decided that this particular establishment was liable for much of the damage as well, because the club requires its entertainers to aggressively sell alcohol to earn credit.

Car accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight these cases to spread public awareness of dram shop laws and their implications. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.