Articles Posted in Dram Shop Cases

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.

Even as police investigate the death last week of a 33-year-old man outside a Northeast Portland strip club the circumstances surrounding the incident have raised serious questions about how well the club was handling its security arrangements – questions that could eventually expose the club to an Oregon wrongful death claim.

As The Oregonian reported last week, the man “collapsed on the sidewalk outside the club and died from a single gunshot wound to the head.” A 21-year-old woman was also injured in the Portland shooting incident and was treated at an area hospital.

“The homicide marked the second fatal shooting at the location in two years. An inspector from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has launched an investigation with Portland police to see if alcohol service played any role in the shooting,” the newspaper notes, citing a spokeswoman for the commission.

A single car accident in the early hours of Friday morning is calling attention to the problem of Portland drunk driving and the damage it can cause.

According to a report in The Oregonian, in the early hours of Friday “a gold four-door 1998 Toyota Corolla crashed into the overpass abutment at Northeast 33rd Avenue and Columbia Boulevard, ejecting the 34-year-old driver from the vehicle.” The paper notes that the woman wound up trapped underneath the car. After being rescued she was taken to an area hospital with what were described as “life-threatening injuries.” The newspaper quotes police sources saying that an investigation is still in progress, but that the crash appears to be alcohol-related.

While we can take some small consolation from the fact that this terrible accident involved only a single car, it also serves as a powerful reminder of the damage drunk driving can do – a reminder that is especially timely as we enter the heart of the Holiday Season. The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year is always filled with parties, visits to and from relatives and many, many opportunities to overindulge.

The death of a highway worker in Canby last week turns a spotlight both on the dangers roadside workers ensure and, once again, on the problem of Oregon drunk driving.

According to The Oregonian, a 48-year-old man who was “placing warning signs about road construction near South New Era Road near South Haines Road” died last week after he was hit by a car believed to have been driven by a drunk driver. The paper reports that the driver was taken into police custody and an investigation is under way.

This incident is a sad reminder of the importance of exercising caution around highway workers. All too often, too many drivers fail to heed warnings to slow down in construction zones or other places where road workers are present. Many drivers also fail to give roadside workers a sufficiently wide berth when passing them.

Last week a graduating University of Oregon senior was sentenced to three years in prison for the Eugene drunk driving death of a fellow student, according to the Eugene Register-Guard.

The victim, a Scot who was also attending UO, was riding his bike in a marked bike lane when he was struck from behind. The newspaper reports that in the immediate aftermath of the Oregon bike and car accident the 22-year-old driver stayed with the victim “and took responsibility for his conduct.” The driver “had a blood alcohol level about twice that in which a driver is presumed intoxicated under Oregon law,” the paper notes.

The fact that the driver did not leave the scene of the accident and had no prior drunk driving history prompted prosecutors to agree to the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide, rather than seeking a conviction for second-degree manslaughter (which would have carried a heavier mandatory sentence). The driver pled guilty as part of the agreement with the prosecutor’s office. He will also lose driving privileges for the remainder of his life.

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