"Wee for Wii" Family Wins in Court

Wrongful Death Suit Awards Family $16 Million

Sky News is reporting that the family of Jennifer Strange has been awarded $16 million in the wrongful death case against Sacramento radio station KDND-FM. Back in 2007 a "Hold your Wee for a Wii" contest was held at the radio station, where the mother of three drank an estimated two gallons of water while not going to the bathroom. Strange left the competition early with a headache, and was later found dead in her home from water intoxication.

Cue indignation.

Seems pretty stupid to me.

Sometimes bad things happen in life. That's how it works. It doesn't mean that someone is always to blame. It sounds like a funny idea, and it's not likely that anyone thought there would be medical consequences.

Why is the radio station any more liable than she is? It's not like drinking the water was an involuntary process.

I'm sorry she died, but I just don't think anyone should be held liable for it.

We have this really psychotic and desperate need to blame someone whenever a bad thing happens.

I seem to remember that some sort of medical professional called the station during the event, warned of water intoxication, and was laughed off.

I have little doubt the amount will be lowered on appeal.

Was the contest stupid? Yes. Did anyone force the woman to participate or drink so much water? No? Case closed in my opinion.

Did anyone warn the participants of the medical risks associated with the contest? No? Case not so open and shut.

Audio clips during the contest.

Wikipedia[/url]]At one point, a caller who was a co-worker of Nurse Practitioner Judy Linder called the station and informed the DJs that the contest could be dangerous and that someone could die. The DJs responded by saying "we're aware of that," and joked that the contestants had signed releases and couldn't file a lawsuit. However, according to a contestant, the waivers addressed only publicity issues and made no mention of health or safety concerns.

Neither the DJs nor the participants had a clue.

At Pax, Bawls or Spike TV or some sh*t almost had a contest having people eat food doused in petroleum jelly, a toxic substance in enough quantities.

Water is toxic in significant enough quantities, forcing water into someone, who does not urinate, can cause kidney and bladder damage.

Malor, if they did not to get sued they would have had a better release. To cover for the negligence of the DJs. Not to pick on you. But it is a pet peeve of mine when people look at a headline around a civil suit, and without benefit of a trial can determine the merit. 60-70 percent of civil litigants never make it to trial on the law. Maybe 30-40 of those will ever win on the merits in the US. Not many plaintiff's win.

And it is as much a media issue as an individual issue. Most of the time you see these headlines, the lead is buried, and few facts are given.

KingGorilla wrote:

Malor, if they did not to get sued they would have had a better release.

Really? If they didn't want to get sued they'd have had a better release? Implying that they did want to get sued so intentionally had a poor release? If so why bother with a release at all?

KingGorilla wrote:

But it is a pet peeve of mine when people look at a headline around a civil suit, and without benefit of a trial can determine the merit. 60-70 percent of civil litigants never make it to trial on the law. Maybe 30-40 of those will ever win on the merits in the US. Not many plaintiff's win.

Do you have cites for these numbers? I think your first is low, last I'd heard it was more on the order of 85-90% of civil cases that settled out of court. I think your second is also low though, I believe plaintiffs have a higher victory rate than that - although that's a belief I can't back up that's why I'm hoping you have cites.

There's no doubt that there are legitimate civil suits out there where someone should be held liable for damage to another. It's just as certain however that personal responsibility is becoming a thing of the past, and people are far too willing to sue someone else for their own negligence.

In days gone by if you slipped and fell on the ice you'd quickly look around, embarrassedly hoping nobody noticed. Nowadays you're just as likely to be looking around hoping to find a witness for your lawsuit.

Teneman wrote:

In days gone by if you slipped and fell on the ice you'd quickly look around, embarrassedly hoping nobody noticed. Nowadays you're just as likely to be looking around hoping to find a witness for your lawsuit.

Or making sure there's no "sidewalk may be slippery when icy" signs to prevent you from having a case... because a case where they have to prove that you should be responsible for using common sense when dealing with an icy sidewalk is much harder to win than one where you should have read the sign, for some odd reason.

In this case though, while common sense may play a factor in not participating, it sounds like a contest that common sense would also tell you not to hold for the medical risks associated. I'm not sure what kind of charges or responsibility they should be held accountable to because it's sort of a matter of someone making a bad decision because someone else told them it wasn't such a bad decision. They're both somewhat responsible for the consequences, as neither of them apparently thought it through very well.

I don't personally think that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water without peeing is common knowledge. My question is, if we agree that this isn't common knowledge, don't the organizers have a responsability to inform participants of the risks? I mean, this is beyond "icy sidewalk is slippery" or "coffee is hot" territory here.
Where do we draw the line between something you should take responsability for because it's common sense, and something you might have no clue could be that harmful to you?

Dysplastic wrote:

I don't personally think that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water without peeing is common knowledge. My question is, if we agree that this isn't common knowledge, don't the organizers have a responsability to inform participants of the risks? I mean, this is beyond "icy sidewalk is slippery" or "coffee is hot" territory here.
Where do we draw the line between something you should take responsability for because it's common sense, and something you might have no clue could be that harmful to you?

Not peeing had nothing to do with it. She died from water intoxication, essencially the reverse of dehydration. The lack of salt/electrolytes in your system, cause by the overabundance of water flushing them out/diluting them, causes the cell energy cycle to breakdown (energy transfer cannot occur). Poof, dead. Had they been drinking gatorade instead, or had pretzels to munch on, she'd likely be alive.

Of course, then her bladder might have burst or her kidneys shut down, but that's another story.

Shoal07 wrote:

Not peeing had nothing to do with it. She died from water intoxication, essencially the reverse of dehydration. The lack of salt/electrolytes in your system, cause by the overabundance of water flushing them out/diluting them, causes the cell energy cycle to breakdown (energy transfer cannot occur). Poof, dead. Had they been drinking gatorade instead, or had pretzels to munch on, she'd likely be alive.

Of course, then her bladder might have burst or her kidneys shut down, but that's another story.

You know, that hadn't occurred to me, but I think you're right. Peeing wouldn't have actually helped. Hmm.

Shoal07 wrote:

Not peeing had nothing to do with it. She died from water intoxication, essencially the reverse of dehydration.

Fair enough - but that doesn't change my point that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water isn't common knowledge.

Dysplastic wrote:

Fair enough - but that doesn't change my point that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water isn't common knowledge.

If anything it emphasizes it, since it means that not everyone understands the whole problem that drinking that amount of water can cause in a person.

Maybe I'm bias in this case, because I was aware of the risks of over-hydrating, but for some reason a red light just goes on in my head when someone tries to get me to consume 2 gallons of anything in a sitting...

Crymsin wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

Fair enough - but that doesn't change my point that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water isn't common knowledge.

If anything it emphasizes it, since it means that not everyone understands the whole problem that drinking that amount of water can cause in a person.

Maybe I'm bias in this case, because I was aware of the risks of over-hydrating, but for some reason a red light just goes on in my head when someone tries to get me to consume 2 gallons of anything in a sitting...

Well, since the Wii incident, a lot more people are aware of this now.

But when you set up a contest, or any other activity, you are expected to have measures in place to prevent injuries and death. It was up to the radio station to have done their due diligence, and it was monumentally clear that they not only didn't, but failed to do so in a massively reckless way. Most organizations would at least be responsible enough to have a doctor on hand.

Dysplastic wrote:
Shoal07 wrote:

Not peeing had nothing to do with it. She died from water intoxication, essencially the reverse of dehydration.

Fair enough - but that doesn't change my point that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water isn't common knowledge.

Oh, I agree. It still kills people in Basic Training, for example, and those Drill Sergeants are pretty well informed. Unfortunately, it presents exactly like dehydration, so the most common deaths are because they continue to pump water into you ("Drink Waaaa-ter!") assuming you're dehydrated, not overhydrated.

Jayhawker wrote:
Crymsin wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

Fair enough - but that doesn't change my point that the fact that you can die from drinking too much water isn't common knowledge.

If anything it emphasizes it, since it means that not everyone understands the whole problem that drinking that amount of water can cause in a person.

Maybe I'm bias in this case, because I was aware of the risks of over-hydrating, but for some reason a red light just goes on in my head when someone tries to get me to consume 2 gallons of anything in a sitting...

Well, since the Wii incident, a lot more people are aware of this now.

But when you set up a contest, or any other activity, you are expected to have measures in place to prevent injuries and death. It was up to the radio station to have done their due diligence, and it was monumentally clear that they not only didn't, but failed to do so in a massively reckless way. Most organizations would at least be responsible enough to have a doctor on hand.

Ah, due dilligence, a favorite legal term. Yep, it seems like they did fail, and the Judge agrees.

Shoal07 wrote:

Ah, due dilligence, a favorite legal term. Yep, it seems like they did fail, and the Judge agrees.

I'm married to a lawyer, if you couldn't tell.

Teneman wrote:
KingGorilla wrote:

Malor, if they did not to get sued they would have had a better release.

Really? If they didn't want to get sued they'd have had a better release? Implying that they did want to get sued so intentionally had a poor release? If so why bother with a release at all?

KingGorilla wrote:

But it is a pet peeve of mine when people look at a headline around a civil suit, and without benefit of a trial can determine the merit. 60-70 percent of civil litigants never make it to trial on the law. Maybe 30-40 of those will ever win on the merits in the US. Not many plaintiff's win.

Do you have cites for these numbers? I think your first is low, last I'd heard it was more on the order of 85-90% of civil cases that settled out of court. I think your second is also low though, I believe plaintiffs have a higher victory rate than that - although that's a belief I can't back up that's why I'm hoping you have cites.

Fraid you have to take my word that I recently read it in a late summer Michigan Bar Journal article. It was written in the context of people touting a need for tort reform for healthcare. Patient plaintiffs there only won a money judgement 30 percent of the time, and typically at lower payoffs. Contract disputes were close to 50, with close to 80k as the mean payoff.

I am not sure if their products liability included class action suits.

Like I said earlier, it just bothers me when people shoot from the hip on a mcguffin. And the outcome is one of creative argument, the wording of the negligence of product liability statute in that state, testimony of others, and that the judge still has to power to review the outcome and curtail anything he feels goes beyond what is legally warranted. Like the McDonalds coffee lady, no one knows that the coffee was so hot as to cause 3rd degree burns on it, because McDonalds brews coffee at temps hotter than 200 degrees (Water boiling at 212). The main argument was McDonalds needs to warn that their coffee is near boiling temp.

I think the problem with something like this is that, as previously mentioned, a lot of people aren't aware that you can die from drinking too much water. This is especially true due to all the myths out there about drinking water that are commenly accepted as true such as that you need to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, that coffee/tea/sodas dehydrate you etc.

I'm completely against a lot of the trivial court cases that seem to come up every now and then but to me at least part of the blame here has to lie with the radio station who should have known if there were any risks involved with this kind of contest. If the contestants had been warned of the risks and chosen to take part anyway that would be a different matter though.

When they had medical professionals calling in and warning them, that really does change the equation.

I'm not a big fan of trivial court cases, but there really should be some sort of deterrant to asshats pulling dangerous and potentially lethan publicity stunts like this.

I think it's quite reasonable to say that someone involved with sponsoring this event had a responsibility to do a little research and make sure there would be no danger to the average participant in the contest, and determine if there were any particular groups of people who might be in danger without knowing it due to their involvement.

Basically, if you're going to be running a stunt contest, *you* have the responsibility to make sure that the contest is safe. You're encouraging people to do something unusual, and you need to make sure that it's just unusual because it's uncomfortable, not potentially lethal.

Teneman wrote:

In days gone by if you slipped and fell on the ice you'd quickly look around, embarrassedly hoping nobody noticed. Nowadays you're just as likely to be looking around hoping to find a witness for your lawsuit.

I could probably find slip and fall cases from a hundred years or more ago. With urbanization came more responsibilities as a landowner. Who is in better condition to remove ice from a sidewalk than the landowner?

Regarding this case, courts have always looked at the best place to put responsibility for injuries with the goal of minimizing the number of injuries. Sometimes this is on the individual, other times the landowner or business. In this case, I'd explain it by the legal realism theory that courts hate having dead bodies and grieving spouses and children caused by something as trivial as a radio contest. So they tend to say, "You want to hold a sh*tty contest for your stupid show? Okay. But make sure it's well run and nobody desperate or dumb enough to enter it dies."

Funkenpants wrote:
Teneman wrote:

In days gone by if you slipped and fell on the ice you'd quickly look around, embarrassedly hoping nobody noticed. Nowadays you're just as likely to be looking around hoping to find a witness for your lawsuit.

I could probably find slip and fall cases from a hundred years or more ago. With urbanization came more responsibilities as a landowner. Who is in better condition to remove ice from a sidewalk than the landowner?

Yes, you could. And I could provide studies showing the dramatic increase in the numbers of those cases and cases like them in the last few decades. I could even find the relatively recent case law which made such slip and fall cases easier on plaintiffs. We discussed this type of case and the trend at length in Torts in law school, and that was a decade ago. I'd wager the trend has exacerbated since then, but that's a hunch.

As to who's in the better condition to remove ice from a sidewalk, that's the wrong question. The right question is who is in the better position to avoid the injury at the least cost.

Obviously a landowner is in the best position to completely and utterly idiot-proof his entire property to ensure that absolutely nobody at any time could ever be hurt there. The cost of doing so would be astronomically prohibitive compared to the 'cost' in care exercised by those visiting the property. It would be absurd to hold a landowner to such a blanket standard, which is why we don't.

Specifically then, who's in the best position to avoid a slip and fall on a sidewalk? Depends. A well used public sidewalk in front of a store specifically holding itself open to the public is one thing. Compare that to an out of the way sidewalk in front of a sick little old lady's home, traversed twice a day by the able bodied healthcare worker who attends said little old lady. The party in the best position to avoid a fall in those cases isn't necessarily the same.

All of which, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the appalling degradation in recent history of people's willingness to take personal responsibility for their own actions and mistakes.

Like I said, I'm not a big fan of frivolous lawsuits, but this doesn't seem to fit that criteria. The folks who did this stunt should have known of the potential for tragedy. Even if they didn't at the onset, there is evidence that they were duly warned by medical professionals as the stunt progressed. Moreover, they took no effort to provide adequate medical supervision of the activity. It's pretty clear that, under any legal measure, they failed to fulfill the basic minimum obligations for public safety. I have a hard time finding any outrage in this judgement at all.

Teneman wrote:

Yes, you could. And I could provide studies showing the dramatic increase in the numbers of those cases and cases like them in the last few decades. I could even find the relatively recent case law which made such slip and fall cases easier on plaintiffs. We discussed this type of case and the trend at length in Torts in law school, and that was a decade ago. I'd wager the trend has exacerbated since then, but that's a hunch.

I went to law school, too. I heard the different policy arguments and know that this is a complex area of the law which tends to be simplified by the plaintiff and defense bars into one liners like, "People sue too much" or "X is responsible for my client's injuries."

If you want to talk about cases in which people don't have serious injuries and sue anyway, okay. That's a failure in process, not in the concept underlying liability. We're also not talking about one of those slip 'n fall cases here because someone actually died. I haven't seen any indication that the theories underlying tort law exclude radio stunt competitions as a rule.

So where does that leave us? At the intersection of fact and law and policy. People can differ on the ruling, but this case doesn't strike me as something that comes out of left field or is offensive to principles underlying our tort system.

Funkenpants wrote:
Teneman wrote:

Yes, you could. And I could provide studies showing the dramatic increase in the numbers of those cases and cases like them in the last few decades. I could even find the relatively recent case law which made such slip and fall cases easier on plaintiffs. We discussed this type of case and the trend at length in Torts in law school, and that was a decade ago. I'd wager the trend has exacerbated since then, but that's a hunch.

I went to law school, too. I heard the different policy arguments and know that this is a complex area of the law which tends to be simplified by the plaintiff and defense bars into one liners like, "People sue too much" or "X is responsible for my client's injuries."

That's complete and utter baloney. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a member of a firm containing nothing but members of the defense bar... okay, maybe I am

Funkenpants wrote:

If you want to talk about cases in which people don't have serious injuries and sue anyway, okay. That's a failure in process, not in the concept underlying liability. We're also not talking about one of those slip 'n fall cases here because someone actually died. I haven't seen any indication that the theories underlying tort law exclude radio stunt competitions as a rule.

So where does that leave us? At the intersection of fact and law and policy. People can differ on the ruling, but this case doesn't strike me as something that comes out of left field or is offensive to principles underlying our tort system.

I actually wasn't responding to the facts of this case. My response was keyed off of the general tenor of KingGorilla's response which read to me as pro-plaintiff all the time, as if there weren't justifiably frivolous suits - a stance he's since clarified. Based on my initial reading of his response I was providing the counterpoint. Even there though I acknowledged that there certainly are instances where civil suits are absolutely legitimate.

Teneman's First Post wrote:

There's no doubt that there are legitimate civil suits out there where someone should be held liable for damage to another. It's just as certain however that personal responsibility is becoming a thing of the past, and people are far too willing to sue someone else for their own negligence.

As for the specific case at hand, I don't have a huge problem with it, specifically with the information coming to light that medical professionals had called in and warned the studio of the dangers involved.

Teneman wrote:

That's complete and utter baloney. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a member of a firm containing nothing but members of the defense bar... okay, maybe I am ;)

Then what you want is even MORE people suing to generate more of those billables. I expect the frivolous crap does get tiresome, though.

Funkenpants wrote:
Teneman wrote:

That's complete and utter baloney. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a member of a firm containing nothing but members of the defense bar... okay, maybe I am ;)

Then what you want is even MORE people suing to generate more of those billables. I expect the frivolous crap does get tiresome, though.

Yeah, it does at times become difficult wrestling with the inherent contradiction between what is good for the firm's bottom line and how I'd prefer society behave from a personal standpoint. I suppose we each have our crosses to bear, right?

A lawyer who is constantly involved in pointless or frivolous suits will be ostracized, possibly fined, possibly disbarred.

Keeping in mind the legal standard of frivolous is different than the court of public opion.

KingGorilla wrote:

A lawyer who is constantly involved in pointless or frivolous suits will be ostracized, possibly fined, possibly disbarred.

I worked in law firms for several years and ended up working on many pointless or frivolous commercial claims (among others that were more worthy), but the legal standard of frivolous is so restrictive that you really have to be nutso to get disbarred or fined because of it.