Oregon Wrongful Death Ruling Widens Dram Shop Interpretation

A ruling last week by the Oregon Court of Appeals broadens the traditional interpretation of our state’s dram shop laws and merits closer examination. According to an account published in The Oregonian the decision in a wrongful death lawsuit established that “party hosts whose invitees bring their own alcohol can still be held liable if drunken guests hurt themselves or others.”
The case is formally known as Baker v Croslin. As detailed by the newspaper, the facts of this important case are as follows: a man died in a 2010 shooting incident “after a night of extensive drinking and gunplay at a house party in Northeast Portland.” The party host “was convicted of criminally negligent homicide” but the victim’s widow also filed an Oregon wrongful death lawsuit.

“Under Oregon law, a party host can be held liable for damages caused by intoxicated guests if the host provided the alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest, and if the host ‘substantially contributed to the intoxication of the guest,’” the newspaper notes. This is a succinct description of Oregon dram shop law – something about which I have written on this blog on numerous occasions. The Dram Shop Law is designed to encourage responsibility on the part of people serving or selling alcohol. We often talk about it in the context of drunk driving, though the details of this case are a powerful reminder that the consequences of reckless alcohol use extend far beyond cars and roads.

According to The Oregonian, the victim’s widow argued that in this particular case, that responsibility extended to the host of a BYOB party on the grounds that while guests brought their own alcohol the host effectively had “control” of what was being served in his home. She lost in the trial court, but last week that ruling was overturned on appeal.

As a Portland wrongful death attorney I applaud this important decision, which extends the responsibility our laws have long demanded of party hosts, bartenders and liquor store clerks in a common sense way. A homeowner who allows a house party to get out of control (as this party obviously did) should not be able to avoid responsibility for his or her negligence simply by claiming that they themselves did not buy the alcohol that led to trouble. Oregon has dram shop laws precisely to ensure that people serving alcohol take proper responsibility for their actions.

The Oregonian: Party host liable for guests, even at BYOB party, Oregon appeals court rules