SEBRING - During the past year, some of the most successful events downtown have been those where participants could buy a glass and then get free wine as they visited downtown merchants, organizers said.
But, some or all of those types of events, which no longer require someone to make a purchase, could be in jeopardy, as city officials are looking into state licensing requirements and whether the city could be liable if someone gets injured.
City Councilman John Clark said he questions whether the city is liable for possible accidents since it is essentially sanctioning such events by waiving the prohibition of drinking in public.
He said he's not sure the average taxpayer would be in favor of such events if they knew of the possibility of liability.
However, Lora Todd, who has been involved in promoting the events, said the organizers have worked with the city.
"We have fulfilled every requirement the city has asked of us," she said.
The first such wine walk occurred last year on Mother's Day. Its success led to others. Despite the questions, business owners say they will go ahead with such an event on Valentine's Day,
City Administrator Scott Noethlich said he's been looking into issues regarding wine walk events and has received limited information from the state.
Once the city waives the city ordinance regarding drinking in public, Noethlich said, the event can be held under city requirements. But that doesn't mean it complies with state laws, he added.
There's a question, he said, as to whether all businesses need state licenses even if they are giving away wine as part of the event, he said.
Another issue, he said, is the city's liability if something happens as a result of someone drinking wine during the event. Noethlich said questions include whether the city is properly covered and whether businesses participating in the wine walk have to get liability insurance.
It appears the law does allow nonprofit organizations to hold three events a year in which alcohol is sold, Noethlich said.
At a meeting Thursday night, some business owners discussed requiring participants to sign waivers of liability. But they agreed that wouldn't cover nonparticipants who might be injured by someone driving drunk who was a participant.
As for licensing requirements, Todd said, she doesn't believe that's required for businesses that give away wine.
Clark said that regardless of the licensing issue, the liability questions remain. He said he's aware of a couple who died in an accident in New Smyrna Beach after participating in a wine walk. Since then, he said, there's been questions about liability.
But Casey Wohl, who does marketing for Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency and organizes events, said a difference is New Smyrna Beach directly hosts those events. She also noted that those events are continuing in New Smyrna Beach.