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Are You Liable When Interns Get Hurt?

8-9-2012

You've probably heard about the incident in Nashville where radio station intern Adam Davis, participating in a promotion, was catapulted into the boards of an ice hickey rink breaking his leg. The intern is suing the NHL's Nashville Predators for "not providing adequate protection" for Davis. The incident made us wonder what your liability would be in a similar situation. So we asked broadcast attorney John Garziglia, If an unpaid intern is injured in a station promotion with one of your clients what is your liability?

John Garziglia says:  What could possibly go wrong? An unpaid radio station intern, presumably not covered by employee health insurance nor workmans compensation insurance, performs as a human hockey puck on an ice rink, being shot out of a sled sling-shot at oversized bowling pins at the other end of the rink. And those aiming him at the bowling pins miss. The unfortunate intern is injured crashing into the hockey rink wall. 

SEE THE INTERN HIT THE BOARDS HARD IN THIS VIDEO

In our June 22, 2012 Ask the Attorney, we talked at length about issues surrounding unpaid interns as part of radio station activities.  We admonished radio stations to consider, for instance, the required coverage the radio station enjoys with workman's compensation insurance, and whether the station wishes to be without that umbrella of protection if an independent contractor or unpaid intern gets horribly injured on the job. 

Rather than rehash that aspect of unpaid interns, lets consider the FCC aspects of this stunt. 

The FCC has never clearly defined its jurisdiction in going after radio stations for stunts or promotions that cause harm or damage.  Recall, however, the case from several years ago in which a death resulted from a radio station water drinking contest titled Wee for a WII.  News reports at the time indicated that a complaint was filed at the FCC and that the FCC Chairman asked the FCCs Enforcement Bureau to look into the matter.  It does not appear that the FCC did anything with the Wee for a WII complaint. 

READ THE HUMAN HOCKEY PUCK LAWSUIT HERE

Just because the FCC may not ultimately do anything with a complaint does not mean that the filing of an FCC complaint is without ramifications to the station, particularly at license renewal time.  Most radio stations in Eastern and Southern states have now routinely received their eight year renewal of license. 

The radio station co-sponsoring the human hockey puck promotion is in Tennessee.  Most Tennessee radio stations received their license renewals a little more than a week ago.  Notably, the human hockey puck radio station has not yet received its license renewal grant. 

It is unknown whether a complaint filed at the FCC about this December, 2011 human hockey puck incident delayed the radio stations license renewal.  But at license renewal time, it is instructive to remember that just about any unresolved FCC complaint filed against a radio station has the potential to substantially delay a license renewal grant.  And it goes without saying that if someone is badly hurt as a result of a radio station stunt, the FCC will be one of the avenues of attempted redress for the injured.  

So again, what could possibly go wrong with a radio station being associated with sling-shooting a radio station intern down an ice rink as a human hockey puck?  If a radio stations license renewal is not yet granted, in addition to watching out for the well-being of interns, it might be prudent to not be associated with anything that in retrospect might appear to be a really bad idea. 

John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or jgarziglia@wcsr.com. Have a question for our "Ask The Attorney" feature? Send to edryan@radioink.com.




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