Could Liability Insurance for Bars Curb Drunk Driving?

Mar 17, 2015

This legislative session, Arlington Rep. Chris Turner pre-filed a bill that would hold bars responsible for the behavior of over-served customers, requiring all bars in the state carry minimum liability insurance.

While Turner’s bill may seem onerous to some bar owners, he argues his proposal to require bars to have insure bars would insulate owners from lawsuits and, ultimately, curb drunk driving.

In 2013, 1,357 Texans died in alcohol-related crashes, and 14 of those fatalities happened in Turner’s Arlington district.

"We’ve seen cases, tragic cases unfortunately, where someone was over-served in such an establishment went out and caused a terrible accident," Turner says. "And then the family that was injured is trying to recoup some damages because of medical costs, and the bar simply goes out of business because they have no liability policy."

Turner's HB 409 would make liability insurance mandatory for bars and restaurants that generate at least 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol.

“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 says. "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 says making insurance mandatory would make bars think twice about over-serving customers — out of fear they'd have to payout in cases of injury, or lose their policy all together — and that the bill would lower the sticker price of alcohol liability insurance across the state and, maybe, eventually curb drunk driving.

“I think that sounds pretty stupid actually," says Radio Coffee and Beer owner Greg Wilson. "Any businessman or woman knows that there is potential liability in owning a bar, and they don’t need the legislature to pass a law in order to inform them of that. So, no, I don’t think it’s going to make anybody more responsible or less responsible."

Wilson says he doesn't think HB 409 would make owners more responsible.

"The incentive would be even greater to be careful if you didn’t carry insurance because then you’d be putting your whole livelihood at risk, all your assets," Wilson says. "Insurance limits your risk that’s the reason you buy it."

However, Wilson actually carries liability insurance on his bar. He says it’s a good business practice. Most people in the industry agree, including J.C. Diaz with the national Nightlife Association.

"We don’t feel that there should be some sort of mandate or some sort of bill that should come across the board," Diaz says. "But we do feel that businesses should carry liability insurance, not only as a venue, but as a venue owner as well."

In fact, Diaz says, the government should be working to protect small business owners from frivolous lawsuits. He argues the law is already too hard on bartenders and venue owners.

"As an individual I know that I’m responsible for my actions," Diaz says. "If I go to a bar and whether I pregame it or I’m drinking too much there or I’m taking a bunch of shots, whatever it may be, the responsibility falls on me."

While personal responsibility is not on the legislative session’s agenda this term, it’s accepted that if you over-serve someone and they get in an accident, you’re going to get sued. Whether or not you have to get insurance for that is something Turner hopes will be up for debate very soon.