Know your rights: Host generally not liable for drunk partygoer who drives

By Richard Alderman
Dec. 21, 2013 at 6:21 a.m.

We are having a New Year's Eve party. I assume there will be lots of drinking, and I plan on having a taxi on stand-by to take home anyone too drunk to drive. I am worried, however, about my potential liability if someone does leave drunk and has an accident. Can I be held responsible?

When you have a private party, you are what the law calls a "social host," and in Texas, you generally have no liability if one of the people who attended the party leaves drunk and has an accident. Under Texas law, a bar or restaurant that allows a drunk patron to leave and drive can be liable under our "Dram Shop" law. An adult social host may also be liable if he or she serves alcohol to someone under the age of 18. In most other cases, a social host has no liability for merely letting a guest leave the party and drive drunk. A social host may be liable, however, if he or she engages in an affirmative act to empower the guest to drive drunk, for example, giving a car to an obviously drunk guest.

Although you may not have any liability if you allow a drunk guest to leave and drive, you are doing the right thing by thinking about this issue and taking steps to ensure your guests don't drive drunk. Whether you should allow someone to drive drunk is not just a legal issue.

My neighbor is building a new house. The contractor's backhoe banged into my fence and broke the fence and the support posts. Who is liable for the damage, the neighbor or the builder?

The fact that your neighbor is building the house does not make the neighbor responsible for acts of the builder. Your neighbor did not engage in any wrongful conduct, and Texas law does not make an owner liable for acts of contractors. On the other hand, the builder owes you an obligation to act reasonably and not damage your property. If the builder was negligent and banged into the fence, my opinion is that the builder should be responsible for the cost of replacing the fence. I suggest you talk with the builder and ask for compensation. Justice court may be the best option if you cannot work things out.

I have a month-to-month lease. In October, my landlord and I agreed that we would extend the agreement for six months, until April. Now the landlord says he wants me out next month. He says our oral agreement is not enforceable.

As a general rule, agreements dealing with land, such as a sale or lease, must be in writing to be enforceable. There is an exception, however, for certain leases. A residential lease for a year or less is enforceable even if it is not in writing. If you and your landlord have an agreement from October until April, it is enforceable. Of course, you will have to prove that the agreement exists.

My mother just died. About all she owned was her car. Is there an easy way to get her car put in my name?

The first thing you should do is have all of your mother's heirs sign an Affidavit of Heirship For A Motor Vehicle. This should be done in front of a notary. This form shows that all of the heirs agree that the car should be put in your name. Next you should fill out an Application for Texas Certificate of Title. Once these two forms have been filled out and signed, take the forms, the title to the car if available, proof of insurance, and the filing fee to your County's Tax Office. The Texas Department of Transportation no longer has these forms online, but an Internet search for "Texas Affidavit of Heirship For a Motor Vehicle," should get you to several free sources.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at



Powered By AffectDigitalMedia