October 29, 2009
After nine days of intense deliberations, a jury of seven men and five women today rendered a verdict against a local Sacramento radio station in the civil trial of William A. Strange et al v. Entercom Sacramento LLC and Entercom Communications Inc. et al. The trial was to determine accountability for the death of Jennifer Strange, who died as a result of a water drinking contest sponsored by Entercom Sacramento's radio station KDND.
By unanimous vote, the jury decided that Entercom Sacramento was negligent in Strange's death; by unanimous vote, they also decided that the parent company, Entercom Communications of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania was not responsible. By a vote of ten to two, the jury decided that Jennifer Strange did not contribute to her own death.
Economic damages were assessed at $1,477,118. Non-economic damages were assessed at $15,100,000.
Jurors said finding Entercom Sacramento negligent was a relatively simple decision, mostly because Entercom on-air employees ignored phone calls warning them of the dangers of the contest. They said they believed it was the responsibility of Entercom Sacramento to vet the contest with the parent company's legal department, which employees failed to do.
However, jurors reported that they were sharply divided over other issues in the case. They said no one thought Jennifer was 100 percent responsible for her death, but that two jurors thought she shared some responsibility. As only nine jurors had to agree to render a verdict, that issue was quickly decided. Deciding non-economic damages proved much more difficult, and took days of deliberations. According to juror LaTeshia Paggett, some jurors thought that criteria they'd been instructed to consider for compensation like love, companionship, and moral guidance were invaluable, and as such, the family should receive zero compensation for those areas. She said other jurors disagreed sharply and felt the compensation should have been as high as $48 million dollars. In the end, according to juror Tammy Elliott, the jury agreed to averaging the dollar amount each juror felt appropriate. "Each juror's number was weighted equally," Elliott said.
According to Entercom's annual report, Entercom Communications reports a 2008 revenue of $439 million; Sacramento is one of their more profitable markets.
The FCC is still investigating the incident.
See the Jennifer Strange story and hear actual contest audio in Public Interest Picture's Broadcast Blues.