Can Bartenders and Bars Be Held Liable for DUI Accidents?

Most people probably agree that someone who becomes voluntarily intoxicated and causes injury to another person should be held responsible for his or her negligence. But what about the bar or bartender that served that person alcohol? Are bartenders responsible for their patrons? What exactly does a bartender’s legal responsibility entail?

Society has faced the issue of whether to establish bartender liability for serving alcohol for far longer than we have been driving automobiles. Early English laws, brought to the American colonies, originally provided that only the person consuming alcohol should be held liable for injuries caused by intoxication. However, over time, the laws of many states have evolved to create liability for those serving alcohol when they have acted wrongfully. Below, we’ll discuss bartender liability laws in Oregon for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.

A Brief Intro to Bartender Liability Laws

More than half of U.S. states, including Oregon, have passed laws setting out circumstances in which an establishment that provides alcohol to a person can be held liable for the acts of the intoxicated person. These laws are often referred to as “Dram Shop” laws, a reference to establishments from the past that served liquor by the “dram,” an old-time liquid measurement consisting of one-eighth of an ounce.

A Bartender’s Legal Responsibility to Patrons in Oregon

How does Oregon handle bartender liability?  When a bartender in Oregon over-serves, can the person consuming the alcohol recover against the establishment serving the alcohol? What about a third party injured by the intoxicated person?

Oregon law specifically states that a patron or guest who voluntarily consumes alcoholic beverages from a licensed seller cannot sue the server of the alcoholic beverages for injuries resulting from intoxication. This is true even if the server was fully aware that the patron being served was intoxicated.

Are bars liable for drunk drivers?

What if a patron becomes intoxicated, drives his or her car, and causes an accident and injures someone? Are bars liable for drunk drivers?

Yes - they can be. In some instances, the provider of the alcohol can be held liable for the injured person’s damages, in addition to the drunk driver him- or herself.

What does a plaintiff have to prove to recover against an establishment serving alcohol?

To recover, a plaintiff must prove the following, by clear and convincing evidence (which requires a higher degree of proof than the preponderance of the evidence standard normally used in civil cases):

  • That the establishment served or provided alcohol to the person causing the accident while that person was “visibly intoxicated.” Whether or not a person was visibly intoxicated may be a factual question that must be decided by a judge or jury at trial. “Visibly” means capable of being observed or perceived. “Intoxicated” means drunk or inebriated. Interestingly, in one case, an Oregon appellate court concluded that it is irrelevant if a person’s blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit for a DUI case. The law only requires that the person be “visibly intoxicated.”
  • That the plaintiff did not substantially contribute to the intoxication by:
    • furnishing alcohol to the person;
    • encouraging the person to purchase or drink alcohol; or
    • facilitating the intoxicated person’s consumption of alcohol.

For example, assume that Mike and Sally visit a local pub to celebrate Mike’s promotion. During the course of the evening, Mike orders several beers and becomes visibly intoxicated. Thereafter, Sally “treats” Mike to five shots of liquor, served to Mike by the bartender, to further celebrate his achievement. At the end of the celebration, Sally accepts Mike’s offer to drive her to her car.

Unfortunately, Mike’s inebriation causes him to run a red light and collide with another car, which results in injuries to Sally. Sally sues both Mike and the pub.

If the jury determines that Sally substantially contributed to Mike’s intoxication, she cannot recover against the pub. On the other hand, the injured driver of the other car, who took no part in Mike’s intoxication, can recover against the pub.

Special Notice and Time Limitations

To pursue a claim against an establishment for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person, special notice must be provided to the establishment. Oregon Revised Statutes Section 471.565 sets forth acceptable forms of notice and the time limits for providing such notice for different types of lawsuits. The notice period can run in as few as 180 days.

Therefore, if you’ve been injured and believe that bartender liability may exist, it’s imperative that you contact an attorney immediately.

Consult with a Lawyer

Society has recognized the great danger posed by intoxicated drivers, and the law has evolved to help ensure that wrongdoers, including establishments that continue to serve a visibly intoxicated patron, are held responsible for the harm caused by drunk drivers.

At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we take pride in helping victims injured by such behavior. We handle thousands of personal injury cases and are familiar with bartender liability laws. Please call us with your questions or for a free consultation.


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