Nov. 2, 2009 -- The husband of a California woman who died after participating in a radio station's water drinking contest said he hopes a jury's $16.5 million compensation award following a wrongful death lawsuit will send a message to other corporations dealing with the public.
"It was a preventable thing," Billy Strange told "Good Morning America" today of his wife's 2007 death from water toxicity. The radio station, he said, "had the information months in advance that this could cause harm."
After two weeks of deliberations, jurors last week found Entercom Sacramento LLC, a subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Entercom Communications Corp., liable for the actions of its employees at Sacramento radio station KDND-FM, the Associated Press reported.
Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old mother of three, was among 18 people who entered the "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" competition. They tried to drink as much water as they could without urinating in a bid to win a Nintendo Wii gaming console.
Though the defense argued that Strange should have accepted some responsibility in knowing that drinking so much water was dangerous, Billy Strange's attorney Roger Dreyer told "GMA" that she acted as any normal person would have in those circumstances.
"She acted based upon the information she had," Dreyer said, calling the ruling "vindication for Jennifer." "We believe that people are constantly told we should drink water."
Strange drank nearly two gallons of water in over three hours on Jan. 12, 2007. During the contest, she could be heard complaining about pain to disc jockeys at 107.9 "The End."
"Oh, it hurts," Strange said, while one male disc jockey remarked that she looked pregnant and another, a woman, said "That is so funny."
Warnings Were Called In
Listeners including Eva Brooks had even called into the show to warn about the potential consequences of the game.
"Those people that are drinking all that water can get sick and possibly die from water intoxication," Brooks said, to which disc jockeys replied they "were aware of that" and that contestants had signed a release "so we're not responsible."
Strange left after taking second place, winning a pair of concert tickets. She then called in sick at work and died in her bathroom just hours after the contest.
Dreyer charged that even after getting phone calls -- one from a nurse -- the DJs did not pass along information about the dangers of drinking too much water to the contestants. Midway through the contest, he said, the amount of water given to the participants was doubled.
Possibility of Death Was Raised During Broadcast
A coroner ruled that her death was due to water intoxication.
The disc jokeys themselves had raised that possibility during the show.
"Can you get water poisoning and, like, die?" asked the female disc jockey.
"Not with water," a male disc jockey replied. "Your body is 98 percent water. Why can't you take in as much water as you want?"
"Maybe we should have researched this before," the female disc jockey added.
Ten employees were fired following the incident.
Speaking after the verdict, juror LaTeshia Paggett said the contest had never gone to the legal department "and it was supposed to go to legal."
Juror Tammy Elliott focused on the cautionary phone calls. "The biggest thing that got most of us was all of the phone calls that came in," she said. "Like, a nurse called."
In a statement, Entercom called Strange's death "a tragedy" and said it respected the jury's decision.
Billy Strange said adjusting to life without the wife and mother was "a one step at a time process."
Jennifer Strange's youngest daughter was just 11 months old when her mother died. Billy Strange said she is truly her mother's daughter, a comfort to the entire family.
"In the brief amount of time she got to spend with Jen, the 11 months," he said, "she really picked up on a lot of her qualities and her personality."