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California jury awards 16 Milliion for wrongful death. Few contest cases actually get to a jury!

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A jury in Sacramento returned a $16.57 million verdict against Entercom Broadcasting’s Sacramento subsidiary when a woman died from drinking too much water to win a WII game contest. The winner was the person that could consume the most water without having to go to the bathroom. Water poisoning can occur with the consumption of too much water.

What is interesting about this case, is the ability of a Plaintiff to get it to trial without dismissal, and not for the reasons you are probably thinking.

The Plaintiffs, family of the deceased woman, made a point that the radio station was warned of the dangers before the contest, knew the dangers and still held the contest. Additionally, the local station and managers did not follow their internal rules and regulations regarding holding such contests. These types of contests were prohibited by their own rules because they pose an unusual danger to contestants. The Plaintiffs’ attorney made several post trial statements that this case was about holding people responsible for their acts, including this station and their employees. The jury found no responsibility on the decedent, as she apparently had no warning of the dangers of drinking too much water.

In most cases, where a contestant had participated in a contest, they are required to execute a release and waiver of claims for personal injury. This case was no exception, but the release was poorly written. In most cases, people who participate in contests can waive their entire right to make any claim and Courts in California have routinely held these releases valid. That is why it is important if you are a victim of one of these contests, you consult with a California personal injury attorney.

In this case, through some digging, I got a copy of the release. It states:

“Release for all claims including personal injury.
In consideration of goods and valuable consideration received and to be received, I (and everyone I know) do hereby release Entercom Inc. from all claims, demands, grievances, and causes of action either legal or equitable, including but not limited to all damages of any kind incurred by myself and others…”

This release fails as far to generalized to escape liability for negligence or intentional conduct, but don’t think that an ironclad release cannot be drafted. In many cases in California a release has been upheld even if the damages could not have been expected. One of the most unusual cases, a TV fell from a Gym wall onto a patron as he was walking by, but the release provided protection even though the TV had been mounted improperly by an employee and had nothing to do with the patron. In fact Courts in California have been trending toward upholding the validity of releases more than denying their application.

I am sure that this woman had no notion that she was signing away her rights if she died during the contest. No one anticipates these tragedies. But the ability to sue should not be limited by a release if the other party does things that intentionally or negligently cause you injury, and that are out of your control or not anticipated.

Most cases get dismissed because crafty lawyers draft air tight releases, even though, as in this case, the company did not even follow the basic rules set out to protect contestants.

In modern society, big business controls everything. If you want to join a gym, you have to sign a release and if you participate in a contest, be prepared to suffer the consequences. You are on your own.

James Ballidis is an attorney in Southern California and has represented many clients facing release issues against their rights. We encourage you to always have an attorney review your release if you are hurt and your claims are being denied. Many releases can be broken, like this one, where the release is not drafted properly and completely. Call us at 949 752-7474 if you want to consult us or contact us.

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