It’s January, and that means Tampa’s largest annual celebration is right around the corner. Sponsored by the City of Tampa and “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla” since 1904, the Gasparilla Pirate Festival draws more than 300,000 annually to the main parade, while more than a million participate in some aspect of the celebration. At this year’s Gasparilla, you can expect even more people, more traffic, and more opportunities for serious personal injuries.

Gasparilla celebrates the spirit of legendary pirate José Gaspar (c. 1756-1821), who supposedly wreaked havoc along the southwest Florida coast in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Working from a small island near Fort Myers (now known as Gasparilla Island), Gaspar and his forces seized and plundered dozens of ships. They forced scores of men to work as pirates and scores of women to serve them as concubines. Gaspar supposedly chose suicide rather than capture by the U.S. Navy in 1821. At least, that’s the story that’s been told to attract tourists, along with tale of buried treasure that’s never been recovered on Gasparilla Island.

Tampa held its original Gasparilla parade back in 1904, merging the mythology of José Gaspar with the style and feel of Mardi Gras. The 2017 Gasparilla Pirate Festival may be the biggest ever. Over a thousand law enforcement officers and trained dogs will patrol adjacent neighborhoods and monitor the crowds. If you plan to participate in any of the events, here’s what you need to know:

  • Containers and Coolers: Inside the event area – but not in adjacent neighborhoods – open containers will be permitted. Small, soft-sided coolers are permitted inside the event area, but large coolers are forbidden.
  • Behavior: The Tampa Police Department has a no-tolerance policy regarding underage drinking, public urination, violence of any kind, and open containers away from the event area.
  • DUI: The Tampa Police Department will establish a number of sobriety checkpoints around the event. If you’re cooperative and sober, you should pass through the checkpoints quickly and easily. Police officers will also be on the water to look for intoxicated boaters and to make arrests for boating under the influence (“BUI”).
  • Parking and pets: Leave pets at home if you can – a pet could easily get injured or lost at Gasparilla. Parking spots will be available in downtown Tampa as well as Ybor City. Extra bus, trolley, and streetcar services will be provided. Some of the churches and businesses adjacent to the parade route will also sell parking spaces for the event.

If you’re driving or boating, you must do it soberly. There is no law against taking alcohol on your boat, and passengers can drink all they like, but you cannot operate a boat if you are over the same legal limit used for automobile drivers – a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 percent. A conviction for driving or boating under the influence could cost you thousands of dollars, and you could seriously injure yourself, your loved ones, or a complete stranger and find yourself on the wrong end of a personal injury claim.


Drivers and passengers who are injured by drunk or negligent drivers – or boaters – are entitled under Florida’s personal injury laws to total reimbursement for their accident-related medical care including future treatment, lost wages and lost earning capacity, and all additional injury-related losses and expenses. Injury victims should consult an experienced Tampa personal injury lawyer after any accident with injuries immediately after obtaining medical attention.

Whenever you drive on Tampa Bay’s streets and highways or ride as a passenger, it’s probable that an intoxicated driver is somewhere on the road near you, and during Gasparilla, it’s even more likely. If you’re driving in or near Tampa during the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, consider changing your route to avoid heavy traffic, and take additional safety precautions. Impaired drivers who cause accidents are prosecuted in the criminal courts, but an intoxicated driver who injures you can also be held liable for civil damages.

If you file a personal injury claim after consulting with an experienced Tampa personal injury lawyer, you must have evidence that you were in fact injured and that the other driver’s negligence caused the accident and injury. You do not have to prove that the other driver was legally intoxicated, but a breathalyzer result on the high side or a DUI conviction by a Florida criminal court will always enhance a personal injury claim.


If you’re injured by an impaired driver, a Florida personal injury attorney can probably negotiate a reasonable settlement on your behalf. Fewer than one in ten personal injury claims actually become courtroom trials, but if an acceptable out-of-court settlement cannot be achieved, your personal injury lawyer will see to it that your story is clearly explained in court and fully understood. Of course, the best plan for Gasparilla means no accidents, no injuries, and no claims. Consider the following suggestions for staying safe and injury-free through the festival:

  1. If you plan to drink with friends, designate a driver, or arrange for a ride service, a limo, a taxi, a room, or a friend’s sofa.
  2. A couple of drinks can cloud anybody’s judgment. Leave your keys at home and get a safe ride to the event as well as a safe ride home. Without your keys or car, you can’t be tempted to drive under the influence. Help your friends find a safe way home, too.
  3. Unless you are entirely and completely sober, do not drive. Period. No exceptions.
  4. Use your safety belt. During Gasparilla, others will drive under the influence even if you do not. Check your tire pressure, windshield wipers, brakes, and all of your lights before heading to the festivities.
  5. At the end of the night, plenty of drivers will be impaired. If you’re walking home or back to your car, have a friend join you, and remember to bring a flashlight.


If a drunk or negligent driver injures you, stay calm and try to think clearly. The top priority is medical attention for yourself and for anyone else who’s been injured. After summoning medical help, call the police. You’ll need a copy of their accident report. Ask any witnesses for their names and a way to contact them. Obtain the other driver’s name, contact, and insurance information. Most drivers will cooperate, but if the other driver is injured, intoxicated, or hostile, ask a police officer to help you obtain the information you need.

Take photos of the accident site, the vehicle damages, and your own injuries. Make and keep copies of every document generated by the accident: test results, medical bills, the accident report, and any related paperwork. If you’ve been injured by a negligent driver, do not admit to anything, sign no insurance forms or documents, and speak as soon as possible – after obtaining medical attention – to an experienced personal injury attorney.