Fatal Teen Driver DUI Crash Raises Questions About Social Host Liability

January 2, 2024

The Shellist Law Firm, PLLC

Social Host

Last month, a Houston teen was charged with intoxication manslaughter in connection with a fatal crash that occurred shortly before midnight on December 15, 2023.According to the Houston Police Department’s Vehicular Crimes Division and public booking information, the 17-year-old had been driving eastbound on the 7700 Katy Freeway service road on a Friday night when he attempted to turn north onto Silber Road while traveling at unsafe speeds.The teen failed to maintain his lane, collided with a curb, and struck a pedestrian who had been asleep on the median. The teen also reportedly attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended by witnesses.

The pedestrian, an unidentified woman believed to be homeless, was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

Tragic Accident Sheds Light on Important Liability Questions, Dram Shop, and Social Host Laws

While this tragic accident is still under investigation and yet to be processed through criminal courts, it serves to illustrate important issues that arise in civil drunk driving accident cases involving underage motorists – particularly as they relate to liability for damages suffered by victims and their families.

As our team at The Shellist Law Firm, PLLC knows, DUI and DWI crashes caused by intoxicated minors (meaning drivers who are under the age of 18) demand a careful examination of the facts surrounding the incident. Specifically, this means finding answers to questions such as:

  • Where was the intoxicated teen coming from prior to the crash?
  • Where did the teen driver get the alcohol they consumed prior to getting behind the wheel?

In civil personal injury and wrongful death cases, these are critical questions because Texas has what is known as Dram shop and social host liability laws.

These laws, generally, create liability on the part of alcohol vendors and social hosts who provide individuals with alcohol when those individuals go on to injure others because of their intoxication. Drunk driving accidents are the most common injury-causing events that gives rise to dram shop and social host liability, but there may be arguments that hosts and dram shops are liable for injuries arising from assaults and other types of accidents, depending on the circumstances.

Texas law does differentiate between dram shop and social host liability and outlines the types of situations where each may be held liable. For example:

  • In the case of dram shop liability, which applies to restaurants, bars, and other businesses licensed to serve alcohol, vendors may be held liable when they overserve an “obviously intoxicated” person who goes on to injure someone because of their intoxication (such as in a drunk driving accident).
  • In the case of social host liability, adult hosts of parties and social gatherings may generally only be held liable when they provide alcohol to a minor (a person under 18) who then injures someone because of their intoxication. Social hosts are not liable for harm caused by adult guests, who are solely responsible under the law for drinking and driving.

In cases where we represent victims who were injured by drunk drivers or families who lost loved ones in fatal DUI crashes, we always explore the potential for bringing claims under dram shop and social host laws, as it can hold negligent parties accountable and ensure that there is sufficient insurance coverage available to compensate our clients, which is especially important in cases where at-fault drivers are uninsured or underinsured.

In cases where drunk drivers are minors, the focus tends to narrow to social host liability, as teens are unable to be legally served at bars or restaurants and typically obtain their alcohol from adults who are 21 or older. As part of our investigations, we work meticulously to retrace the teen driver’s steps leading up to their accident and to identify who provided them with alcohol.

In this tragic case, for example, it has been revealed that the teen driver attended a local, influential high school. Many of these schools are known for the parties thrown by teens and their parents, which often have copious amounts of alcohol provided by parents to the minors.

In situations such as these, it would be critical to investigate whether a teen driver attended one of these types of parties and to determine where the alcohol came from. If it came from a parent who hosted the party or otherwise served or allowed to be served alcohol to an underage guest, that parent could potentially be held liable for significant damages under Texas’ social host liability laws.

This article should also serve as a stern warning to those adults who “allow” their teens to host parties, knowing that alcohol will be served, that there can be significant risk and exposure on behalf of these parents should somebody else get injured as a result of the impaired partygoers. It is against the law to serve alcohol to minors, with very limited exceptions. Our advice at the Shellist Law Firm—DON’T TRY TO BE THE COOL PARENT! IT’S NOT WORTH IT!

Learn more about Social Host Responsibility in Car Accident Cases on our blog.

Have Questions About a Potential Case? We Can Help.

The Shellist Law Firm, PLLC, is an award-winning trial practice with a reputation for handling high-stakes personal injury cases across Houston, Harris County, and the state of Texas.

Backed by decades of trial-tested experience, we have fought for countless victims and families who suffered losses in car accidents and have the insight to tackle tough cases involving issues such as drunk driving and dram shop/social host liability. In one notable dram shop case litigated by our firm, for example, we secured a $1.2 million settlement for our client.

If you have questions about your rights after you or a loved one were harmed in a drunk driving accident, we want to help. Our team proudly serves victims across Houston and beyond and offers free consultations. To speak with an attorney, call (713) 715-5000 or contact us online.

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