Bars and Taverns May Be Responsible for Serving Intoxicated Patrons

Oregon like most other states, (but not all), has enacted statutes often called dram shop laws which hold bars, taverns and restaurants responsible for over serving alcohol to patrons who then cause drunk driving accidents.

ORS 471.565  sets out that any bar, tavern or restaurant that serves alcohol to a person who is already visibly intoxicated is liable for injuries that patron causes to another.  Most often, but not always, this involves a drunk driver who is later charged with DUII.

"Visibly intoxicated" however is not the same as under the influence.  In fairness, an employee of bar or tavern whose duties include serving alcohol may not always be able to distinguish with precision during the course of a work shift which patrons are sober, which are under the influence of alcohol and which are too drunk to drive.  The burden therefore falls on the injured person to establish that the drunk patron was in fact visibly intoxicated.  In order to recover from the bar or restaurant, a plaintiff whose been injured by a drunk driver must show by clear and convincing evidence that any reasonable person could see the drunk driver was visibly intoxicated and the server should have cut them off but instead continued to serve them alcohol.

In Oregon, defendants under dram shop liability laws must be notified promptly, in writing, of a plaintiff's intent to file a lawsuit or else a plaintiff forfeits the right to pursue a legal action against such a defendant.  At the time of this article Oregon law mandates that if the claim for damages against a "dram shop" arises from a wrongful death, notice must be given within one year from the date of the death.  If the claim for damages arises from injuries rather than death, notice must be given within 180 days of the injuries.

Each state's dram shop liability laws may differ in many respects.  In Oregon for instance, the legislature did not intend for dram shop liability laws to allow a drunk driver who injures himself to recover from the business that served him alcohol even if he was visibly intoxicated when served.  If such a claimant voluntarily consumed alcohol served at a bar or tavern, the statute does not allow him to bring a claim for injuries caused by his intoxication.  Rather, Oregon's dram shop liability laws were intended to make whole the innocent victims harmed by a drunk driver who was over-served by third party business, or dram shop.

Another exception to the dram shop rule in Oregon involves a person injured by an over served intoxicated person who contributed to that person's intoxication.  An example of this is when a group of friends all drive together to a bar or tavern.  Even if the server or bartender, who is considered an agent of the business, continues to serve one friend who is visibly intoxicated and also the driver, the dram shop business may not be liable if the injured plaintiff was a contributor.  In the above example, if one friend in the group is later injured by the intoxicated driver on the way home from the bar, but that friend contributed to the driver's intoxication by, for example, ordering the driver's drinks or encouraging the driver to take shots of liquor, that injured friend may not rely on Oregon's dram shop statutes.  The philosophy is that a person whose irresponsible behavior contributes to causing his own injuries should not be allowed to recover from the third party liquor establishment.

Can a social host, for instance an average person who puts on a party, be held liable under Oregon's dram shop liability laws?  The short answer is yes.  Just like a bar, restaurant or tavern, if a social host serves alcohol to a guest who is already visibly intoxicated the social host may be liable for harm the intoxicated guest causes to another.

If you've been harmed by a drunk driver, Angel Law PC looks forward to discussing your dram shop liability claim; contact us right away.