Water Intoxication

Water Intoxication:  A Buzz Kill

Who knew water intoxication could be such a buzz kill.  To some Americans, it is a dream come true:  intoxication by way of water (or as Philadelphians say, “wood-er”).  There’s no catch here. We are talking about pure, filtered, crystal clear H20.  Those who enjoy to relax on the weekends with an ice cold beer in an Eagles-themed cosi are probably imagining how much money they would save and the weight they would lose if water could achieve the buzz that alcohol has faithfully provided for hundreds of years.  While there is such a thing called water intoxication, the reality of it is actually a buzz kill.

In 2007, Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old mother of three, participated in a water drinking contest hosted by Sacramento radio station KDND-FM, which was a subsidiary of Philadelpia-based Entercom Communications Corp.  The competition was called, “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.”  The objective was simple:  18 contestants would drink as much water as they could without urinating.  The winner would win a Nintendo Wii game.

Jennifer Strange drank almost two gallons of water in over three hours.  During the competition, the listeners could hear Jennifer complain about pain, while a male disc jockey stated that Jennifer looked pregnant, to which a female DJ responded, “That is so funny.”  And she did look pregnant.  In fact, disturbing pictures after the contest show the otherwise small-framed Jennifer smiling to the camera while her stomach was so swollen with water that her zip-up hoodie could not even remotely cover her mid-drift.

After receiving concert tickets for 2nd place, Jennifer called in sick at work and then, just hours after the contest, died in her bathroom.  The coroner’s finding for her cause of death was water intoxication.  Jennifer’s husband, Billy Strange, sued Entercom Sacramento LLC for the wrongful death of his wife.  How much was Jennifer Strange’s “strange” death worth?  They jury came back with a whopping $16.5 million dollar verdict, largely due to the radio station’s gross negligence.

According to Billy Strange, the radio station “had information months in advance that this could cause harm.”  Eva Brooks, a listener, had actually called into the show to warn the DJs about the dangers of the contest.

She said:  “those people that are drinking all that water can get sick and possibly die from water intoxication.”

The DJ seemed to misunderstand the purpose of Eva’s call as warning the DJs about them being potentially liable if a lawsuit were to result from the contest rather than protecting their listeners from harm.  The DJs replied to Eva that they “were aware of that” and that the contest participants signed a release so they were not responsible.  Other listeners, even a nurse, called in to warn the DJs about the danger of the contest, but the DJs did not forward the information to the contestants and, halfway through the contest, actually doubled the amount of water given to the participants.

Even the DJs foresaw a potential health risk for consuming such an excessive amount of water in a short period of time.

One female DJ asked, “Can you get water poisoning and, like, die?”  A male DJ responded, “Not with water…your body is 98 percent water.  Why can’ t you take in as much water as you want?”  The female DJ replied, “Maybe we should have researched this before.”

Despite the radio station being 100% at fault for the death resulting from the water drinking contest, some people have criticized the outcome, feeling that Jennifer should take some responsibility for her demise because she should have known the danger of drinking that much water.  Strange’s personal injury attorney, however, argued that “She acted based upon the information she had…we believe that people are constantly told we should drink water.”

The moral of the story?  Although organizations certainly have a responsibility to protect the people they interact with, it does not do one much good to point fingers when you are six feet under the ground.  We must exercise our own due diligence to protect our health and be grateful for our health while we have it.  Let’s drink to that.


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