Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Real Proximate Causation

Not every DJ is remembered, and even fewer in the cannon of legal precedent. The Real Don Steele played a role in a tragic case which led to a notable decision on the issue of proximate causation in tort law.He was also a pretty popular California DJ for about 4 decades. He started DJing at 930 KHJ-AM in 1965 which is all you need to know before reading on...

The California Supreme Court's decision in Weirum v. RKO General, Inc. in 1970 regarded Don Steele's radio show on KHJ-AM. They ran this promotion called "The Super Summer Spectacular." The schtick was that Don himself would drive "a conspicuous red automobile" to a particular area and an announcer would state over the air that Steele was headed to that area. The first person who found Steele (with some conditions) won receive a cash prize. Conditions were pretty simple wearing certain articles of clothing or answering simple questions. Yeah... no way that might go awry...


Subsequently on July 16th  1970, two different teenagers, in two separate cars were tailing Don Steele waiting for the announcement on the air. In their irrational exuberance one imbecile forced another motorist's car off the road, killing him. The victim's family sued everyone, the car manufacturer, the teens and RKO Genera, the owners of KHJ, because this whole stunt was dangerous and amazingly stupid. One teenager settled, but the other teen and RKO were found liable for the accident. The award was 300k, that's over 1.7 million in 2012 dollars. RKO General appealed.

That appeal forced the California Supreme Court to get very specific about liability. They affirmed the jury's verdict that RKO General was legally liable by the reasoning that the contest generated foreseeable risk of harm to the public. they did not say that it was very stupid, but it certainly was. The imbroglio, the court case the the verdict lived on in the cannon of law and Don Steele remained unharmed. Mr. Steele stayed at KHJ until 1973, then moved on to KIQQ, KTNQ, KRLA, KODJ, KCBS and then KRTH in July 1992. He died in 1997 after a truly epic career. 
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