Articles Posted in Dram Shop Cases

As we head into another long holiday weekend this is a good moment to remember the importance of road and traffic safety. This year caution is especially important because 2016 is already shaping up as an unusually deadly year both here in Oregon and nationwide.

As a recent article in The Columbian noted, “traffic fatalities were up 9 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.” More alarmingly, however, Oregon was second in the nation (trailing only Vermont) in the extent to which traffic deaths have increased since 2014. Two years ago the state recorded 128 traffic fatalities during the first half of the year. This year the figure was 217 – a stunning 70 percent increase. Those numbers are all the more worrying when they are combined with the just-released estimate from the National Safety Council that some 438 people will lose their lives in traffic accidents nationwide over the holiday weekend (defined as 6pm local time on Friday through 11:59pm on Monday). In addition the Council estimates that the holiday period will see 50,300 people injured seriously enough that they will need to consult a doctor or another medical professional. Historically Labor Day sees more traffic accidents than most other holiday periods, the council’s news release notes.

There are, of course, many causes for traffic deaths, but on weekends like Labor Day attention inevitably focuses on drunk driving. A news release from the Oregon State Police warns motorists both to expect “heavy traffic volumes” and to “get a designated driver (plan ahead) if you plan on consuming intoxicating substances.”

An Oregon car accident near Amity on route 99W sent a highway worker to the hospital last week. According to The Oregonian, a ‘flagger’ employed by a private company was “taken to a Portland hospital with serious injuries” after being struck by a car in the early evening. The Oregon traffic accident occurred near milepost 47 on Route 99W and closed the road to traffic for what the newspaper describes as “an extended period of time.”

The paper reports that the driver remained on the scene and cooperated with police. It also, however, reports that investigators believe “alcohol or drugs may have been a factor” in the incident and that they are considering criminal charges against the driver.

On its surface this might seem like a fairly straightforward Oregon traffic accident case. The specifics, however, raise several interesting legal questions. We would normally suppose a highway worker injured on the job to be covered by workman’s comp, but the fact that the flagger was injured by a third party – the driver – changes the situation in some ways. Most notably, if drugs or alcohol were, indeed, involved in the accident that opens the possibility of a legal claim under Oregon’s social host and dram shop laws against not only the driver but also the individual, bar or liquor store that gave or sold the driver drugs or alcohol. Because Oregon requires training in the specifics of its dram shop laws for all bartenders this sort of liability can be especially difficult to avoid.

A Harrisburg car crash over the weekend left a 19-year-old man dead and has led to the arrest of the vehicle’s 20-year-old driver, according to The Oregonian. “Police said alcohol and drugs likely were contributing factors. There was evidence to show that the driver… was allegedly (had) over twice the legal limit of alcohol (in his bloodstream) and had used cocaine and marijuana,” the paper reports.

Citing local police, the paper reports that the driver failed to make his way around a curve on a road in Linn County causing his minivan to roll several times. Of the three passengers in the van one was ejected and thrown some 50 feet. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver and the other two passengers, both of whom are 18 years old, were treated for “non-life threatening” injuries at an area hospital.

After his release from the hospital the driver “was booked into the Linn County Jail on charges of Manslaughter I, Assault II and DUII,” the newspaper reports.

A single-vehicle Portland car accident that killed one person and injured two others spotlights both the dangers of reckless and drunk driving and its broader legal implications, even when a second car is not involved.

According to a report earlier this week in The Oregonian a 29 year old man who was riding in the back seat of an SUV died when he was thrown from the vehicle during “a fatal crash Sunday night off Northwest Skyline Boulevard.” The paper reports that “the SUV rolled down a steep embankment toward the 6600 block of Meridian Ridge Drive where it struck a house and caught fire. Neighbors were able to extinguish the fire and no one in the home was injured.” The newspaper, quoting police, says that the SUV’s 39-year-old driver remains in an area hospital in critical condition. The other passenger, a 30-year-old woman, “was treated for her injuries and released” from the hospital.

As the paper notes, “while the cause of the crash remains under investigation… (police) said it appears that alcohol and excessive speed were both contributing factors.”

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.

Citing new figures published by the Centers for Disease Control, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that “excessive drinking accounts for one in every nine deaths in Oregon.” That figure, it adds, puts our state on the wrong side of the national average, which is one death in 10.

Between drunk driving and other well-known alcohol-related risks the figure is, perhaps, less surprising than it might seem. It is worth noting that the study focused on the broad health risks associated with alcohol. While drunk driving was included it was not the sole focus of the research. According to OPB “The study looked at binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more for men, as well as heavy drinking, which is eight drinks a week for a woman and 15 for a man.”

The focus on binge drinking also highlights the importance of strict enforcement of Oregon dram shop laws. These extend responsibility for injuries and damage caused by a drunk person to bars, taverns and any business that sells alcohol. The dram shop rules are a reminder that cutting off someone who is drinking too much is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of the drinker himself or his companions.

An article in Wednesday’s Oregonian raised an interesting question: how many Portlanders are aware that traffic enforcement does not take place overnight? According to the newspaper the city’s last budget cut police funding and, as a result, “the (traffic enforcement) bureau lost five full-time officer positions, and so eliminated the 9 pm to 7 am traffic shift Wednesday through Saturday.”

What this means in practice is that there are fewer officers available to enforce Oregon drunk driving laws. The newspaper quotes Portland police chief Mike Reese saying: “Traffic officers are committed to saving lives. They hold people accountable when they break the law… It’s not easy work. DUII investigations require skill to make arrests prosecutable.” The chief is asking the City Council for $300,000 in additional funds to restore four of the five overnight officer positions that have been lost.

While there are no available statistics looking at how fatal Oregon car crashes are distributed throughout the day, the newspaper notes that Washington State does keep such records. North of the Columbia River “60 percent of all fatal crashes occur between 7 pm and 5 am,” according to a Portland police spokesman cited by the newspaper. There is no reason to suppose that the pattern is not at least broadly similar here in Oregon.

With Seattle in the Super Bowl this weekend excitement surrounding the Big Game is even higher than usual here in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, increased excitement can often lead to overindulgence, and local and federal officials alike warn that Super Bowl weekend can be a dangerous time to be on the road.

According to a news release issued earlier today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “on Super Bowl Sunday 2012 alone, 38 percent of fatalities from motor vehicle crashes have been connected to drunk driving, compared to 30 percent on an average weekend.” The NHTSA has partnered with the NFL and the Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management (TEAM) Coalition to urge fans to be careful and drink responsibly wherever they choose to watch this Sunday’s game.

If self-control is not sufficient to prevent Oregon drunk driving, everyone should also be aware that police will be out in force across Portland this weekend. “The Portland Police Bureau and the Oregon State Police are teaming up on Sunday in a crackdown on drunken drivers. Their message: ‘Think before you drink.’ If you do, arrange for safe transportation to Super Bowl activities,” according to a report in The Oregonian.

An item posted late last night on The Oregonian’s website offers details of a serious Washington bicycle accident involving a teenage rider in which a motorist faces assault charges and, potentially, drunk driving charges as well.

The paper, citing the Everett Herald, reports that a 52-year-old Everett man driving a pick-up truck “allegedly struck a teenage cyclist, launching the boy off a 30-foot overpass… the crash caused the victim, 16, to fall about 20 feet onto a hillside, police said. His body then tumbled an additional 10 feet down into the street.” The paper reports that the boy’s injuries include a possible broken neck – meaning that, while they are not, according to the paper, life-threatening, they could be life-altering for both him and his entire family.

The pick-up truck driver “told police he had been drinking beer or wine a few hours before the crash and believed he suffered a seizure.” The paper reports that when he was arrested at the scene the suspect “had trouble standing and could not easily move his hands. Officers said the suspect slurred his speech and had bloodshot eyes.” Bail for the suspect was set at $25,000, the paper reports.

A report this week in The Oregonian is a welcome example of our legal system at work. The account of the conviction of a reckless Oregon hit and run driver who caused a two-vehicle crash in Tualatin is a reminder that the justice system can and does work for victims and our broader society alike.

According to the newspaper the 24-year-old man was arrested for causing the crash in a parking lot adjacent to Martinazzi Avenue in Tualatin last January. “Witnesses told police a man in a pick-up was driving erratically and struck another vehicle,” The Oregonian writes. “The suspect’s vehicle then hopped a curb near the roundabout at Southwest Avery Avenue and 86th Street and struck a road sign. Witnesses also said the driver didn’t stop for a red light” and that while doing all of this he narrowly missed a pedestrian.

Once arrested the suspect was charged with DUII, hit-and-run and reckless driving. Now, five and a half months later, he has been convicted, and will serve time in jail, pay a fine and lose his driving license for three years. The man was initially eligible for a diversion program but lost that status, according to the newspaper, when he was arrested again in February.