A Guide to Intoxication Manslaughter in Texas

by | Mar 26, 2024 | Car Accident, Dram Shop Law, DUI/DWI, Vehicle Accident, Wrongful Death

Intoxication manslaughter in Texas is a grave offense that carries significant legal consequences. It involves causing the death of another person due to operating a vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft while intoxicated. Understanding the intricacies of this offense, its legal implications, and the potential penalties is crucial for both citizens and legal practitioners in the Lone Star State.

Drunk driving is consistently a factor in auto accidents that cause injuries and deaths. It is important for Texan’s to be aware of what the law says about intoxication and its relation to auto accidents, injuries, and deaths. In the guide below, the wrongful death attorneys at Kherkher Garcia provide information about intoxication manslaughter, dram shop laws, and victims’ rights after an intoxication-related death.

Defining Intoxication Manslaughter

Intoxication manslaughter is defined under Section 49.08 of the Texas Penal Code. According to the statute, a person commits this offense if they operate a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft in a public place while intoxicated, and by reason of that intoxication, cause the death of another person. It is essential to note that in Texas, intoxication means not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.

Elements of the Offense

To be convicted of intoxication manslaughter, the prosecution must establish several elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Operation of a Vehicle: The defendant must have been operating a motor vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft at the time of the incident.
  • Intoxication: The defendant must have been intoxicated at the time of operating the vehicle. This can be proven through various means, including field sobriety tests, breathalyzer tests, blood tests, and testimony from witnesses.
  • Causation: The defendant’s intoxication must have been the direct cause of the victim’s death. This element can sometimes be complex to prove and may require expert testimony or forensic evidence.

Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter

In Texas, intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony, which carries severe penalties upon conviction. The potential consequences include:

  • Imprisonment: Upon conviction, imprisonment for a term ranging from 2 to 20 years in a state penitentiary.
  • Fines: The court may impose fines of up to $10,000.
  • Probation: In some cases, a judge may grant probation instead of imprisonment. However, probation typically comes with strict conditions, including community service and mandatory alcohol education programs. Probation also requires regular check-ins with a probation officer.
  • Restitution: The court may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim’s family to compensate for financial losses resulting from the death.
  • License Suspension: A conviction for intoxication manslaughter often results in the suspension or revocation of the defendant’s driver’s license.
  • Ignition Interlock Device: In certain cases, the court may order the installation of an ignition interlock device on the defendant’s vehicle. This device requires drivers to pass a breathalyzer test before driving.

Intoxication manslaughter is a serious offense in Texas with severe legal consequences. Understanding the elements of the offense is essential for anyone who is affected by an intoxication-related injury or death.

Understanding Texas Dram Shop Laws

In Texas, dram shop laws hold alcohol-serving establishments accountable for injuries or damages caused by patrons who were over-served alcohol. These laws are designed to deter establishments from serving alcohol to individuals who are visibly intoxicated or minors. The goal is to reduce the likelihood of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The following overview will provide a better understanding of Texas dram shop laws, including their scope, requirements, and implications.

Definition and Scope

Dram shop laws in Texas are primarily governed by Chapter 2 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. These laws apply to various establishments where alcohol is sold or served, including bars, restaurants, clubs, and liquor stores. The term “dram shop” historically refers to establishments that would sell alcoholic beverages by the dram, a small unit of measurement.

Liability Standard

Under Texas dram shop laws, alcohol-serving establishments can be held liable for injuries or damages if they served alcohol to a patron who was obviously intoxicated or under the legal drinking age, and that patron subsequently caused harm to another person. This harm can include injuries sustained in accidents such as car crashes or assaults committed by an intoxicated patron.

For an alcohol-serving establishment to be held liable under dram shop laws in Texas, several key elements must be established:

  • Service of Alcohol: The establishment must have served alcohol to the patron in question.
  • Visible Intoxication: The patron must have been visibly intoxicated at the time of being served alcohol. This means displaying obvious signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, impaired coordination, or erratic behavior.
  • Proximate Cause: The establishment’s service of alcohol to the visibly intoxicated patron must have been a proximate cause of the injuries or damages suffered by the plaintiff.
  • Notice of Intoxication: In some cases, establishments may be liable if they continued to serve alcohol to a patron despite being aware of their intoxication. They may also be liable if they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm, such as calling a cab.

Limitations and Defenses

It is important to note that Texas dram shop laws have certain limitations and defenses available to alcohol-serving establishments:

  • Statutory Limitations: Texas law imposes limitations on the amount of damages that can be recovered in dram shop liability cases.
  • Contributory Negligence: If the injured party contributed to their own injuries, their recovery may be reduced or barred altogether.
  • Intervening Cause: If an unforeseeable intervening cause contributed to the injuries or damages, the establishment’s liability may be diminished or eliminated.

Enforcement and Penalties

Violation of Texas dram shop laws can result in civil liability, where the injured party may seek damages through a lawsuit against the alcohol-serving establishment. Additionally, establishments found to have violated dram shop laws may face administrative penalties, including fines, suspension, or revocation of their liquor licenses.

What are Families’ Rights if They Lose a Loved One to Intoxication Manslaughter?

Losing a loved one to intoxication manslaughter is an immensely painful and traumatic experience for families. While nothing can fully alleviate the grief and suffering caused by such a loss, families of victims do have certain rights and legal options available. These rights primarily revolve around seeking justice, holding responsible parties accountable, and obtaining compensation for their losses. Here are some key rights and avenues families may pursue:

Right to Legal Representation

Families of victims have the right to seek legal representation from experienced attorneys who specialize in wrongful death and personal injury cases. These attorneys can provide guidance, support, and advocacy throughout the legal process.

Right to Civil Action

Families may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the individual responsible for the intoxication manslaughter. These lawsuits may also include other liable parties such as the establishment that over-served alcohol (if applicable). Through a civil lawsuit, families can seek compensation for various damages, including:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical bills related to the victim’s final injury or illness
  • Loss of financial support and income
  • Loss of companionship, guidance, and support
  • Pain and suffering endured by the victim before their death
  • Punitive damages, if applicable (intended to punish the defendant for gross negligence or intentional misconduct)

Right to Criminal Prosecution

In cases of intoxication manslaughter, the state may pursue criminal charges against the individual responsible for the death of their loved one. While families do not have direct control over the criminal proceedings, they have the right to participate as victims or witnesses in the criminal case. They may provide impact statements during sentencing hearings, which can help inform the court about the devastating consequences of the defendant’s actions.

No legal action or compensation can fully compensate for the loss of a loved one. However, exercising these rights can help families navigate the difficult journey toward healing and justice in the aftermath of intoxication manslaughter.

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney

If your family has lost a loved one due to an intoxicated person, you deserve every opportunity to pursue justice. At Kherkher Garcia, that is what we do. Our wrongful death attorneys help families hold responsible those accountable for negligence or wrongdoing. Our team knows what it takes to protect your rights, pursue justice, and obtain compensation for your loss.

If you have questions about intoxication manslaughter, dram shop laws, or wrongful death claims, contact us today for a free consultation. At Kherkher Garcia, we are committed to providing compassionate legal guidance and support during difficult times. To start your consultation, call us at 713-333-1030, or complete our online contact form.

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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