A Sorry Tale

Jennifer Lea Strange of Rancho Cordova, CA entered a contest sponsored by station KDND to win a hot-selling Nintendo Wii game console for her three children. The contest–called “Hold your wee for a Wii”–required contestants to drink quantities of water to see who could go the longest without urinating. After drinking about two gallons of water, according to witnesses, Strange gave up and finished second, winning tickets to a Justin Timberlake concert. She was found dead a few hours later of water intoxication, according to the preliminary autopsy. During the contest a caller warned the DJs of the risk of death from drinking too much water. “Yeah, we’re aware of that,” said one, and another added with a laugh “Yeah, they signed releases, so we’re not responsible. We’re OK.” Speaking of Strange’s distended belly a DJ said “”Oh, my gosh, look at that belly. That’s full of water. … Come on over, Jennifer, you OK? . . . You going to pass out right now? Too much water?”

Sacramento lawyer personal injury lawyer Roger Dreyer, whom Strange’s family retained to represent them in a wrongful death lawsuit, said the contest was a “negligent act of premeditated recklessness.” KDND fired ten people, including three morning DJs, and announced an investigation into Strange’s death. Responding to Dreyer’s request to pull the station’s operating license the Federal Communications Commission announced that it will conduct its own investigation into Strange’s death. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Office is investigating possible criminal charges.

This whole affair is just depressing: people willing to undergo extreme physical discomfort to win a $250 game console; a radio station making sport of these people for marketing purposes; KDND employees either failing to investigate the possible risks, or just ignoring them; a contestant who goes beyond what her body can take, and dies; everything about this is wrong, wrong, wrong. These accounts coincided with a post I read recently at The Tortellini titled Those Wacky, Tragic Warning Labels; they can be easy to ridicule but some of those product warning labels we make fun of originated in some family’s tragedy.

Cheryl Miller, ‘Hold Your Wee’ Radio Contest Prompts Wrongful Death Suit, The Recorder, 24-Jan-07 (Law.com) (Subscription required); AP, 3 DJs fired after deadly water-drinking contest, MSNBC.com, 17-Jan-07; FCC Head Orders Investigation Into Water Contest, Yahoo!.com, 25-Jan-07; Tape: Disc jockeys joke about water contest risk, CNN.com,

9 thoughts on “A Sorry Tale”

  1. From a legal perspective, if the DJs warned all contestants of the possibility of water intoxication and had them sign releases, then the DJs should not be held responsible for Jennifer’s death. On the other hand, they tempted her into joining a reckless activity and mocked at her when she was about to give up (so she ended up drinking even more water); based on those fact, one could argue that the DJs have committed assisting murder.

    This is also a good example of gambling with your life and health. Jennifer only thought about what she could win instead of the price that she would need to pay for the reward. Even if she didn’t die from water intoxication, she could still have suffered from other health related problems and would have to go through costly medical processes. There is no free lunch afterall.

  2. “KDND employees either failing to investigate the possible risks, or just ignoring them; a contestant who goes beyond what her body can take, and dies; everything about this is wrong, wrong, wrong.”

    In response to this, I definitely agree that everything about this situation was both sorry (as the name of the article states) and wrong. I believe that the KDND employees were willfully ignoring the possible risks due to the phone calls that were recorded. That being said, the radio station seems to have displayed negligence and should be held responsible. Jennifer also should have considered the health risks and considered her three children for whom she was doing this ridiculous contest for. I believe that once she had to sign the release, Jennifer should have immediately considered why there was a release and if it was worth the risk. In court however, I would hope that the radio station would be held accountable for Jennifer’s death. Overall, it just seems like a terrible situation.

  3. This reminds me of other competitions where contestants purposely engage in foolish acts in order to win some sort of reward. Hot dog eating competitions, the TV show “Fear Factor,” and even winning money for “living” on a bed for the longest time. Sure, these marketing tactics attract attention and are fun for the public to watch, but I think the cost-benefit ratio is certainly under looked by the hosts. There are always going to be people who go beyond their body’s capabilities not for the prize but just for the fact that people are watching and they want to put forth an impressive performance. Nor do they want to embarrass themselves or look weak. The results can be fatal.

    I think as time progresses, incidences like these (the death of Strange) will cause marketing agents to decrease these types of promotions. Companies will resort to better types of advertising and promotion. Consider what Doritos is doing right now. For their super bowl ad, they are hosting a competition where people make their own ads and submit it on the Doritos website. The ad that is voted the “best” will air during the super bowl. This is a genius idea, for their cost of making the commercial is nothing and it is attracting lots of publicity. Here is an article that describes this competition if someone is interested.
    http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/14/news/funny/doritos_superbowl/index.htm

  4. The situation at hand regarding Jennifer’s death from water intoxication is outrageous.

    However, this would be typical of a radio or TV station like KDND, who, at the end of the day, care nothing about ratings. If the station were more aligned with “doing the right thing,” the upper executives would be worrying about ratings, which is a terrible way to conduct business for the public’s pleasure. How can the “public” take pleasure from these kinds of incidents, when their own lives are at stake, in a joke of a competition.

    With the DJs even taunting her by saying ”Oh, my gosh, look at that belly. That’s full of water. … Come on over, Jennifer, you OK? . . . You going to pass out right now? Too much water?,” that also just goes to show that these messages and contests are simply for the ratings. It is not an enormous expense for a radio station to purchase one of these game systems, and have a contest for it….They wouldn’t care, as long as in the end, their ratings boost! However, for the common household, these systems do burn a little bit of a whole in our pockets, and a chance to get a free system, is very enticing. But then again, how enticing is risking your own life, and putting your child in a position to no longer have a mother, or father? I think a trip to Toys ‘R Us may have been a better trade off for Jennifer…

  5. This reminds me of other competitions where contestants purposely engage in foolish acts in order to win some sort of reward. Hot dog eating competitions, the TV show “Fear Factor,” and even winning money for “living” on a bed for the longest time. Sure, these marketing tactics attract attention and are fun for the public to watch, but I think the cost-benefit ratio is certainly under looked by the hosts. There are always going to be people who go beyond their body’s capabilities not for the prize but just for the fact that people are watching and they want to put forth an impressive performance. Nor do they want to embarrass themselves or look weak. The results can be fatal.

    I think as time progresses, incidences like these (the death of Strange) will cause marketing agents to decrease these types of promotions. Companies will resort to better types of advertising and promotion. Consider what Doritos is doing right now. For their super bowl ad, they are hosting a competition where people make their own ads and submit it on the Doritos website. The ad that is voted the “best” will air during the super bowl. This is a genius idea, for their cost of making the commercial is nothing and it is attracting lots of publicity. Here is an article that describes this competition if someone is interested. Look out for the ad during the super bowl!

    http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/14/news/funny/doritos_superbowl/index.htm

  6. I read the article on Tortellini and the point is well-taken because of how horrible the situation was with the washing machine (by the way, they also profit off of these incidents on TV because a similar event happened on an episode of CSI) and how certain signs or warning labels may actually be appropriate no matter how ridiculous they might first appear.

    However sometimes it just really is ridiculous. In London, the law is for cigarette manufacturers to include very blunt warning labels on each pack such as “Smoking Kills” and “Smoking causes deaths for babies” or something like that. And it’s not like people here do not understand the risk of smoking. People smoke here because of the culture and because they feel it appropriate to do so. Us Americans, as a general rule, are disgusted by the smoke and we didn’t need the ridiculous labels to tell us.

  7. Although the behavior of the radio station was immoral and strictly for ratings, it is important to remember that this is their job. Jennifer had a choice to enter this contest. I’m sure she was well aware of what a typical radio station contest was like, and yet she still signed on to participate. Obviously, like the radio hosts, Jennifer did not foresee her death resulting from this water drinking contest otherwise she would not have agreed to participate. Therefore I believe Jennifer is liable for her own death because she made the choice to participate, signed a release form, and as horrible as it is, she must suffer the consequences of her actions. Nobody forced her to drink that much water.

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