Jennifer Strange Trial: Determining Damages

October 18, 2009

The closing arguments in the case of William Strange et al vs Entercom not only summed up the case for the jury, but presented them with guidelines for determining compensation should they find Entercom liable for the water drinking death of Jennifer Strange stemming from the January 2007 "Hold Your Wee to Win a Nintendo Wii" radio contest.

Sacramento Bee reporter Andy Furillo and KOVR CBS 13 reporter David Begnaud reported that plaintiiff attorney Roger Dreyer is seeking more than $24 million, and plaintiff attorney Harvey Levine is seeking an additional $12 million.   They report that Defense attorney Don Carlson told the jury $4.5 million would be more appropriate compensation. 

But those broad numbers downplay the detailed instructions given to the jury by the court on how to determine the proper level of compensation.  Attorneys are not asking for punitive damages in this case, but rather for economic and non-economic damages for the 2.75 years since Jennifer died and the 51.75 years she would be expected to live in the future.

First, should the jury find Entercom liable, they must determine the direct economic impact of Jennifer's death on the family.  Jennifer was the bigger wage earner in her family, and the jury was given some rather straightforward instructions on determining how much money Jennifer would have contributed to her family's well being had she lived.

Second, the jury was given a much more complicated set of standards established by the court (not the attorneys) by which to determine non-economic compensation.  For each of the Plaintiffs, (husband Billy, daughter Jorie, 3, son Ryland, 6, and son Keegan, 13,) the jury must consider compensation for each of the following factors individually:  Love, Companionship, Comfort, Care, Assistance, Society, Moral Stewardship, Training, Guidance, and in the case of her husband, Physical Intimacy.

It is pretty simple to calculate how much money Jennifer would have earned had she lived.  But how do you put a number on the damage done to a little girl who will never know her mother's love?  How do you put a number on the damage done to a little boy who will never have his mother's moral stewardship?  Or to a teenager who will never again have his mother's guidance?  Or to a husband who will never again know his wife?   There are no easy answers to those questions, but those are the questions this jury will likely have to decide.  

Dreyer suggested that each of those areas should be compensated between $100,000 to $150,000;  Carlson suggested far less compensation for each area.

How much would each one be worth to you?

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