Fatal Oregon DUI Crash Raises Dram Shop, Social Host Liability Questions

Oregon DUI stories often, sadly, seem to be an inevitable part of every holiday weekend. Here in Oregon Thanksgiving week began with a DUI story that may raise broader issues.

“Police say a Salem woman was under the influence of alcohol early Tuesday when she drove her car the wrong way down Interstate 5 and crashed into another car, killing a passenger inside,” according to a report this week in The Oregonian. The newspaper reports that the 49-year-old woman “was driving northbound in the southbound lanes of I-5 for several miles, police said, before her 2003 Volkswagen Jetta collided head-on with a southbound BMW near mile marker 266.5, near Keizer.”

A 49-year-old Nyssa woman riding in the BMW “was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash,” while that car’s driver and a second passenger were injured. The driver was treated at Salem Memorial Hospital while the second passenger was transported to the Portland area for treatment. The wrong-way driver was also treated at a Salem hospital for crash-related injuries and, once released, was charged “with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, driving under the influence of intoxicants, assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.”

This fatal Oregon DUI crash may raise particular issues related both to Oregon’s dram shop and to its host liability laws. I have written about dram shop laws frequently. These are the Oregon statutes which hold bars, liquor stores and their employees responsible if they serve or sell alcohol to a visibly-intoxicated person who then goes on to be involved in a DUI incident. What is less well-known is that a related doctrine known as “social host liability” can also apply to individuals. If the wrong-way driver responsible for this particular accident were to have been served alcohol at a party, for example, the hosts or organizers of that party could be held responsible for the victim’s death as a result of their failure to make sure that an intoxicated guest does not get behind the wheel of their car.

As an Oregon attorney with extensive experience working with DUI victims and working on dram shop cases I will be watching media coverage of this terrible accident closely to see if further details emerge to shed light on how the Jetta’s driver came to be headed the wrong way down I-5.

 

The Oregonian: Alleged wrong-way driver charged in fatal Interstate-5 crash