Tort Law

Jury Says Radio Station Must Pay $16.6M in Woman's Water Intoxication Death

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The owner of a California radio station must pay $16.6 million to the survivors of a woman who died of water intoxication after participating in a “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest. The winner of the 2007 contest promoted by KDND, also known as “The End” due to the station’s position on the FM dial, was to receive the Nintendo video game for drinking the most water without either urinating or vomiting.

Lawyers for the family of Jennifer Lea Strange, who died at age 28, leaving her husband and three children, had asked for between $34 million and $44 million, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Plaintiffs lawyers Roger Dreyer and Harvey Levine played tapes of the “Morning Rave” show that held the contest for the Sacramento Superior Court jury, and they heard disc jockeys joke about contestants throwing up and the possibility that someone could die from drinking too much water, the article recounts. Even after several on-air calls from listeners expressing concern that drinking too much water was dangerous, the jokes continued.

The defense argued that Strange’s death was unforeseeable and resulted from her own contributory negligence.

The radio station’s owner, Entercom Sacramento, was held liable because the seven-man, five-woman jury found that disc jockeys and station managers acted negligently within the course and scope of their employment in holding the contest, the Bee reports.

Plaintiffs lawyers argued that the owner’s parent company, Entercom Communications Corp. of Philadelphia, should also be held liable because company lawyers didn’t adequately warn and train the local station about its policy against holding contests that were dangerous, in poor taste or reflected badly on the company’s morals and ethics.

The Bee article doesn’t expressly state whether the parent company was also held liable by the jury, although it specifically names only Entercom Sacramento as being subject to the award. But WHEC, an NBC affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., says the parent company was not included in the $16.6 million award.

The newspaper article doesn’t say whether Entercom intend to appeal the verdict. However, defense lawyer Colin Munro tells News 10 KXTV, a local ABC affiliate, that the Entercom isn’t yet ready to comment.

“Our thoughts and hearts are with all the Strange family at this time. It’s obviously an extraordinary event. It’s real sad,” he says. “We’ll have to digest this and comment later on.”

Additional coverage:

L.A. Now (Los Angeles Times): “Jury awards $16 million to family in fatal radio prank”

Sacramento Press: “Jennifer Strange Trial: Entercom Sacramento Negligent”

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