Legal standards for liability of commercial sellers and social providers of alcoholic beverages are affected by social norms concerning accountability and responsibility. Using a nationwide probability sample telephone survey of 7,021 U.S. residents, we conducted a randomized experiment in which each subject was asked to respond to multiple vignettes. The vignettes told stories of drinking situations, systematically varying dimensions concerning age of drinker, commercial versus social settings, amount of alcohol consumed, history of previous behavior, and seriousness of damage or injury following drinking. Analyses involved linear mixed (i.e., random effects) model regressions, using responses to vignettes as the outcome variable, controlling for a series of sociodemographic, behavioral, and attitudinal measures. Results showed that age of drinker (young), setting (bar), and previous behavior (history of irresponsibility) were most strongly associated with harsher judgments of civil liability. Citizens' multiple standards for assigning legal liability and implications for public policy are discussed.
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ALEXANDER C. WAGENAAR is professor, PETER J. HANNAN is senior research fellow, and EILEEN M. HARWOOD is research associate at the School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota. CHARLES E. DENK is research scientist in the Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology Program, New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. HEGANG CHEN is assistant professor at the School of Public Health, Division of Biostatistics, University of Minnesota. This study was supported by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant 030732. We appreciate the helpful comments of anonymous reviewers. Correspondence may be directed to Alexander C. Wagenaar, School of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota, 1300 South Second Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454-1015; telephone: 612-624-8370; fax: 612-624-0315; E-mail: Wagefirstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: http://www.epi.umn.edu/alcohol.