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Hosting a holiday party?  Know the law…

Posted by Bradley Thayer | Dec 05, 2015 | 0 Comments

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We are realists, we know people host and enjoy parties.  We also know alcohol consumption can happen at parties.

Obviously, safety concerns arise when partygoers find themselves in altered states, especially when holiday revelers take it too far.  In 1986, the Beastie Boys implored the masses, singing “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”.  We do not condone that message, as many of our clients are victims of impaired drivers.  But we do want you, if you may be considering hosting a holiday party this holiday season, to have the summary below to enable you to be better informed of the laws in place – whether you are in Washington or Oregon.

Washington Laws Pertaining to Hosting a Party

In Washington private-party hosts are referred to as “social hosts”.  These folks are treated differently than licensed alcohol vendors, known as dram shops (or in every-day parlance as bars, saloons, public houses, beer gardens, dives, alehouses, etc.) and “quasi-commercial hosts” (those who do not sell alcohol but have a business interest in furnishing it to their guests).

Serving a minor always opens a dram shop or quasi-commercial host up to potential liability.  A dram shop or quasi-commercial host could be sued if that alcohol furnisher sold or provided alcohol to an adult patron if the adult patron is “apparently under the influence” or “obviously intoxicated” at the time.  See Barrett v. Lucky Seven Saloon, Inc., 152 Wn.2d 259, 96 P.3d 386 (2004).  This is generally not the case with a purely social host.

…as contrasted with the Washington approach to social host liability, Oregon may more likely expose a private-party hoster to liability when furnishing adult persons alcoholic beverages.”

As the host of a private party, generally, one may be exposed to liability only if the host serves alcohol to a person under the age of 21 years old and that minor person becomes injured as a result of his or her intoxication.  See Hansen v. Friend, 118 Wn.2d 476, 824 P.2d 483 (1992); see also Reynolds v. Hicks, 134 Wn.2d 491, 951 P.2d 761 (1998); see also RCW 66.44.270.  This is because RCW 66.44.270 makes it “unlawful for any person to sell, give, or otherwise supply liquor to any person under the age of twenty-one years or permit any person under that age to consume liquor on his or her premises or on any premises under his or her control.”

Further, Washington courts have found a social host owes a “duty of reasonable care” to a minor to whom they have furnished alcohol.  Hansen, 118 Wn.2d 476.  Thus, a minor person injured as a result of his or her own alcohol consumption, may have a cause of action against the social host who supplied the alcohol based on RCW 66.44.270.  Id.  That same “duty of reasonable care” is not, however, owed by a social host to third persons injured by the intoxicated minor.  Reynolds, 134 Wn.2d 491.

In sum, generally, a private social host in Washington would not be exposed to liability for furnishing alcohol to adult persons, but they could be exposed to liability for furnishing alcohol to minors.

A quasi-commercial host situation most often arises when a business throws a party or if there is a business purpose for having the party.  This concept could also apply to a social host charging money at a party to defray the cost of the alcohol being served (i.e., charging at the door), in which case an otherwise not-likely-to-be-liable social host could be found liable rather than receiving the protection of the Washington social host rule.

For more information on safe social hosting, see the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board web site.

Oregon Laws Pertaining to Hosting a Party

Unlike in Washington, in Oregon, dram shops (licensed alcohol vendors) and social hosts (private-party hosters) are treated the same, generally speaking.

Oregon Revised Statute 471.565 provides that an injured person may pursue a claim against an alcohol vendor or a private host who serves alcohol at parties or other social events, if the injured person can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that:

  • The vendor or social host “served or provided alcoholic beverages to the patron or guest while the patron or guest was visibly intoxicated”; and,
  • The injured person did not “substantially contribute to the intoxication of the patron or guest by:
    • Providing or furnishing alcoholic beverages to the patron or guest;
    • Encouraging the patron or guest to consume or purchase alcoholic beverages in any other manner; or
    • Facilitating the consumption of alcoholic beverages by the patron or guest in any other manner.”

ORS 471.565.  The Oregon Supreme Court has identified a key factor in assessing whether a particular furnisher of alcohol is considered to have provided alcohol to a “visibly intoxicated” patron or guest in a manner that supports the imposition of liability – “the amount of control” that the furnisher of alcohol had over the alcohol supplied.  See Solberg v. Johnson, 306 Or. 484, 760 P.2d 867 (1988); see also Wiener v. Gamma Phi, ATO Frat., 258 Or. 632, 639-40, 485 P.2d 18 (1971).

If a furnisher of alcohol has no control over the supply of alcohol, the furnisher cannot be liable for permitting a patron or guest to become dangerously intoxicated from that supply.  See Solberg, 306 Or. 484.  According to the Court, “a person who has control over the alcohol supply is in a position to prevent harm to third parties that could result from further consumption of alcohol by persons who are already severely intoxicated.”  Baker v. Croslin, 264 Or.App. 196, 199-200, 330 P.3d 698 (2014) (citing to Solberg, 306 Or. 484).  The trier of fact (i.e., the jury) decides the amount of control a furnisher of alcohol has in a given factual situation, not the court.  Solberg, 306 Or. 484.

Liability to third persons for injuries that occur as a result of serving a minor in Oregon is different than in Washington as well.  A dram shop or social host would only be liable to those persons where a reasonable person would have:

  • Requested age identification; or,
  • Determined the identification was altered or did not accurately describe the person to whom the liquor was served.

See ORS 471.567.

In sum, as contrasted with the Washington approach to social host liability, Oregon may more likely expose a private-party hoster to liability when furnishing adult persons alcoholic beverages.  Please be aware of this Oregonians!

For “Responsible Party Host Tips”, please visit the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's web site. Additional responsible party host information from the OLCC is also available.

We, at Schauermann Thayer, wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season!

About the Author

Bradley Thayer

Brad Thayer is an associate at the Schauermann Thayer firm. Brad is licensed in both Oregon and Washington. He has been practicing law since 2015. Brad's practice focuses on automobile collision, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian injury, dog bite, and a myriad of other types of injury and insurance cases. During his free time, Brad enjoys following the Portland Trailblazers, playing basketball. going to concerts, and playing the drums. He especially enjoys hiking in the Columbia River Gorge and exploring other Northwest wonders.

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