October 29, 2009
Today, a divided jury rendered a unanimous verdict against Entercom Sacramento in the case of Jennifer Strange, a mother of three who died as a result of radio station KDND's water drinking contest in January 2007. The jury of seven men and five women awarded Jennifer's family more than $16 million compensation.
For much of the past two months, I have been observing and live blogging the trial. (suewilsonreports.com .) There is much to process before I comment at length. But in brief:
KDND 107.9 "the End's" Morning Rave ruled the airwaves in Sacramento's morning drive. The on air personalities ruled the radio station, too, the proverbial inmates running the asylum. And they clearly knew a person could die from drinking too much water: just a month before the contest, the Morning Rave spent an entire show making fun of a local college kid who had died from water intoxication. They made fun of Matthew Carrington's death , and they knew someone could die from drinking too much water.
But the Morning Ravers never gave Jennifer or any other contestant that information when they sponsored the "Hold Your Wee to Win a Nintendo Wii" contest. Instead, they encouraged contestants to drink first 48, then 96 ounces of water an hour in a party atmosphere, while at the same time they were joking on the air about the potential of someone dying from water poisoning. Listeners were calling into the contest (nurses among them) to warn the on air crazies that someone could die from water intoxication, but Lukas and Trish and Maney laughed them off, saying contestants had signed release forms, so the station wasn't responsible if somebody died. (Contestants couldn't hear any of the radio comments.)
The jury understood. They rendered a very careful verdict.
But the public doesn't get it. They don’t get that the release form Jennifer signed was deemed worthless by the court; and that the radio station actually withheld information about danger from the contestants. No, by a two to one margin on online polls, the public thinks that Jennifer Strange is responsible for her own death. And the comments are vociferous.
So a radio station, a broadcaster licensed to serve the public interest, sponsors a contest it knows is dangerous. A woman dies as a result; and the public stands up for the corporation who was trying to profit from the stunt.
There's so much more to this story. Later.
See video of the Broadcast Blues Jennifer Strange story ond hear audio from the contest at broadcastblues.tv