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It’s that time of year again. Holiday parties abound. People frequent bars and restaurants. Year end celebrations are in the works. Many like to partake in alcoholic beverages. Some to excess. Alcohol and operating a vehicle can be a dangerous mix. Though national statistics show the number of alcohol related injuries and deaths decreasing, many people will still lose their lives or a good portion of their health during the week ahead. Of course, any impaired driver who kills or injures another is responsible for the damage they cause. Our tort law says so. But often lawyers who handle these cases find the drinking driver uninsured, or with only the lowest insurance coverage permissible by law. The damage resulting from a death or serious injury can quickly exceed the liability insurance both Washington and Oregon require for auto policies. A mere $25,000 is all you have to carry to comply with each state’s “full coverage” law. With the high cost of medical care, that “full coverage” policy can go very quickly. Which is why underinsured motorist coverage is really a must buy. People with this coverage can look to their own policy to make up the difference if the guilty driver’s policy is insufficient. However, that coverage too can go very quickly if a death or serious injury occurs. Sometimes another source is overlooked. Laws in both states prohibit storeowners, bartenders and waiters from selling alcohol to a person who is obviously intoxicated. If they do and someone is hurt, the bar or restaurant can become liable. Called “dram shop” actions, these cases make the bar or restaurant owner responsible if the over served customer gets behind the wheel and injures or kills another. Proving liability in these cases can be difficult however. The patron must be obviously intoxicated for liability to apply. Experienced drinkers can hide their level of intoxication. Witness statements from other patrons are crucial in these cases and must be obtained quickly before names are lost or people forget what happened. Shorter legal deadlines can also apply. Oregon requires the claim be made within a matter of months, not years as in most states. Special notice requirements may apply too. If these special rules aren’t followed, the case can be lost. If you or a loved one is seriously injured by an intoxicated driver, the best legal advice is act quickly. And don’t sign anything or agree to any resolution of your case unless absolutely certain you’ve tapped all the potential coverage.

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