Oregon Dram Shop Laws: Holding Bars Responsible

When a pedestrian, cyclist or another driver is injured in an Oregon traffic accident and the driver that caused the crash was drunk, then who was at fault and who should have to compensate the injured parties? The natural answer will always be, “the drunk driver, of course!”

Portland dram shop liability lawyers will agree. They will, however, also advise their clients that Oregon dram shop laws also point the finger at the person who sold the intoxicated driver their alcohol. Under certain conditions, these laws pave the way for an action to be taken against the premises and hold them liable, at least in part, for the injuries caused by the drunk driver.

What qualifies as a “Dram Shop,” according to the law?

A dram shop is any business that serves alcoholic beverages by the dram, the traditional British unit of measurement for liquor. Naturally, this applies in most instances to bars, nightclubs and restaurants, but the statute actually covers any establishment that sells “shots” of alcohol. It’s also important to note that, in order for the law to apply, the liquor actually must have been sold to the drunk driver.

The law itself (ORS 471.565) makes it illegal to sell alcohol to people who already appear intoxicated or to minors. In Oregon, the legal age at which someone can purchase alcohol for consumption is 21. Failure to abide by this law exposes the establishment to claims that they are at least partially responsible for any damage caused by the drunk driver to property, other people or even to him or herself.

Provisions of Oregon Dram Shop Laws

Besides making it illegal to sell liquor to an obviously intoxicated customer or to a minor (based on identification), other provisions of the law also make it illegal to sell alcohol without a valid license, or to sell it after hours. Portland dram shop lawyers can file a lawsuit on behalf of injured clients and hold premises liable on the following grounds:

  • A vendor or seller of alcohol, which can include employees of the premises or of the vendor (the vendor’s agent) served or sold alcohol to an intoxicated person. For the purposes of the dram shop laws, an intoxicated person is one whose ability to think and act as they normally would has been diminished by drinking. The law also applies if a minor was served or sold alcohol on the premises, whether or not they were intoxicated.
  • The customer’s intoxication was the “proximate” cause of an injury to a person or damage to a property. This proximate cause rule is tricky. Portland dram shop lawyers must prove that if the alcohol hadn’t been sold to the intoxicated person, the accident would not have happened. However, in many cases it is considered adequate by the court for the lawyer to show that selling liquor to the intoxicated person added to their intoxication and ultimately led to the injury or property damage.

In some limited instances, described under ORS 471.412, the premises will not be held liable for selling liquor to intoxicated people, if they can show that:

  • The vendor, agent or licensee did not allow a person to continue to consume alcoholic beverages on the premises once the seller realized the person was intoxicated.
  • The vendor or licensee made a good faith effort to remove unconsumed alcoholic drinks from the customer’s possession once the seller realized the person was intoxicated.

Time Limits for Filing an Oregon Dram Shop Notice

It’s also very important to be aware of the very strict statute of limitations in these cases. While the normal statute of limitations for an injury accident claim is two years in Oregon, anyone filing a “Dram Shop Notice” must do so within 180 days of the accident, according to ORS 471.565.

A successful case will result in the premises or vendor having to pay compensation to help cover the injured party’s medical costs, and/or to repair or replace property damaged by the drunk driver. The courts are far less lenient now with bars and bartenders who go on selling alcohol to visibly intoxicated customers and to minors, just for the sake of maximizing profits.

It’s quite clear that Oregon dram shop laws are quite tricky and open to a variety of interpretations. It’s also indisputable that anyone who drinks and then drives should be held accountable for the untold damage they do to Oregon drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and property every single year. However, it would be foolish to completely absolve those who sell alcohol to clearly intoxicated people and minors of any responsibility or accountability for their attempts to make money at almost any cost.

The time limit for filing a claim in Oregon is also very strict, so if you’re in any doubt whatever about your chances of making a successful claim, the best thing to do—as soon as you can do it—is to contact a team of reputable and experienced Portland dram shop lawyers. Ask them any questions you may have about your case and the likelihood of getting compensation from both the drunk driver that injured you and the person who sold them their alcohol.