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New Years Eve was a few days ago. Drunk drivers were involved in collisions in Oregon and the Portland area. That has consequences for the drivers in terms of legal liability and may have consequences for the people serving them as well.

For the drunk drivers, impairment is a form of recklessness. It is also referred to in the caselaw with a number of colorful terms like wantonness and gross negligence. Because of the higher degree of culpability–because we all know that driving while drunk impairs your driving ability and increases foreseeable risks to other drivers–the drunk driver is also exposed to punitive or exemplary damages. Those damages go beyond compensation of the victim and are intended to punish or make an example out of the bad actor. With recent tort reforms in Oregon, the state now gets 60% of the proceeds of any punitive damages award. The drunk driver’s insurance policy may or may not cover the punitive damages, depending on how it is worded, and on how the case is pleaded. Insurers cannot cover intentional injuries (think about it–you should not be able to take out a policy for intentionally ramming your car into someone), but can cover reckless conduct as long as it is not excluded.

The people who served the drunk driver may also be partially responsible if they serve the driver while visibly intoxicated or when they had reason to believe the driver posed a hazard to others on the roadway. There are some wrinkles to dram shop cases, and you should consult an attorney early because of the early notice timelines involved.

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