Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wine Tasting Liability

Most wine stores hold free wine tastings. They might only have four wines available for tasting or over 100 wines. I enjoy the larger wine tastings as there are so many options, so many different wines that I can try. It is more convenient to taste so many wines at one time rather than attend 10 different wine tastings. I have attended many of these larger tastings.

Yet are wine tastings dangerous, especially the larger ones? Does a wine store open itself up to potential legal liability if one of their patrons drinks too much at their wine tasting?

Today, I spoke to a local wine store that does not hold wine tastings because they are worried about potential liability. In our litigious society, I think this is an issue that all wine stores must consider. Yet do they? Do they simply rely on their liability insurance to take care of any problems? Or do they actively attempt to limit their liability?

In Massachusetts, there is a law (M.G.L. Chapter 138, Section 15) that provides some restrictions on wine tastings. A key limitation is that a wine store may not provide a single serving of wine that exceeds one ounce. Yet I am sure we have all been at wine tastings where the tastings have certainly be more than one ounce. Some stores are very heavy handed in their tasting pours. Besides technically violating the law, this may open up these wine stores to additional liability.

With heavy handed pourers, a patron could become intoxicated. Yet even a wine store that follows the law may not avoid danger. Consider some of the larger tastings where they might be as many as 50 to 100 wines. Even at one ounce tastings, a patron could potentially drink 50 to 100 ounces of wine. That would be roughly equivalent to two to four bottles of wine!

Offhand, I do not know the specific laws of other states on wine tastings though I believe most states have similar restrictions. Plus, similar concerns about liability due to drunken patrons would be applicable in other states. I am sure no wine store wants to be found liable for some multi-million dollar verdict where one of their drunk patrons kills someone in a motor vehicle accident. But how many actually think about that possibility?

Wine stores need to be cognizant of the dangers and should take positive steps to limit potential liability. Maybe they should not have the larger tastings. Maybe they should keep a careful eye on their patrons to ensure no one drinks too much. Maybe they should provide more food at their larger tastings. There are many things wine stores can do. They just need to do them.

If you are a wine store owner, what do you do to limit your potential liability?

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