Alcohol and Responsibility

With Memorial Day and the long summer season approaching this is a good time to revisit some difficult truths about drinking, driving and social responsibility.

The Klamath Falls Herald & News published a useful article recently focused on parental responsibility and teen drinking. The story focused on a demonstration staged at an area high school in the run-up to prom. The simulation portrayed “the devastating immediate effects of a serious accident” involving teenagers and alcohol. Though the focus of the demonstration was on teen responsibility, as the paper noted, a key point went unaddressed, specifically “the responsibility assumed by adults who furnish alcohol to underage drinkers.”

As the paper explains: “Any adults who think they are being good parents by hosting parties with underage drinkers would do well to look at the Oregon laws about such things.” Oregon law allows a parent or guardian to serve alcohol to their own underage child in their own home when they are personally present. That does not extend to hosting party where anyone else’s children will be drinking. The article quotes a warning to parents from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission: “If you allow your property and/or home to be used for a party where minors, other than your minor child(ren), consume alcohol in your presence, you may have to forfeit property and may be issued a criminal citation… The power to provide alcohol to a minor can’t be transferred from a parent to other adults.”

The key section of Oregon law in this case is ORS 471.565: “Liability for providing or serving alcoholic beverages to intoxicated person.” This is commonly referred to as the ‘dram shop’ statute, and most writing on it focuses on the responsibilities it places on restaurant and bar owners and staff as well as people who sell alcohol at retail. The law also, however, applies to “social hosts” – a formal term that effectively extends most provisions of the law to private homes and other gatherings.

Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission has a website (see link below) offering a range of useful information on how people hosting parties and other social events can avoid alcohol-related legal trouble. When reading over this, it is important to remember that Oregon’s dram shop/social host law can create civil as well as criminal liability for people who do not act responsibly when serving or selling alcohol.

As a Portland-based attorney practicing in both Oregon and Washington I spend a large portion of my time helping people who have suffered at the hands of drunk drivers. While it is natural to assume that the driver is the person who bears most or all legal responsibility for a frunk driving accident, it is important to understand that the law in both Oregon and Washington has a different view of these matters. Dram shop laws, and a doctrine known as “comparative fault” mean a jury can reasonably find that a social host, store clerk or restaurant is just as responsible for serving a minor who later caused an accident as the minor him or herself. Please keep that in mind as the summer approaches, particularly where young people are concerned.


The Herald & News (Klamath Falls): Adults have a special responsibility in dealing with minors and alcohol

Oregon Liquor Control Commission: Responsible Party Host Tips

ORS 813.010: Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants

ORS 811.140: Reckless Driving


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