This month, contest sponsor PKG Investments LLC d/b/a “Fire & Ice” and others were sued in a Santa Fe, New Mexico County Court by the family of a woman who choked to death during a racy, on-premises corn dog eating contest earlier this year.

What steps can sweepstakes and contest sponsors take to prepare for worst-case scenarios?

Fire & Ice’s Corn Dog Eating Contest and Resulting Fatality

This January, Albuquerque nightclub Fire & Ice allegedly “held a corn dog eating contest where female contestants got on their knees in front of males who were holding corn dogs near their groin area.” The contestant who finished eating her corn dog the fastest was supposed to win a prize from the contest sponsor.

One 56-year-old contestant choked on her corn dog while participating in the promotional contest and ultimately died. According to court records, the subject contestant was served three “double shots” of liquor and four “double gin and tonics” at the venue before the corn dog eating contest began, and had a reported blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.13% and 0.14%.

Family Sues Contest Sponsor

On August 5, 2016, the deceased contestant’s surviving husband, daughter and mother sued Fire & Ice and others connected to the property and its liquor license for alleged negligence, wrongful death and loss of consortium.

The plaintiffs claim that the contest sponsor over-served the deceased contestant at the bar and did not properly supervise the corn dog eating contest.

Sweepstakes and Contest Sponsors: Protect Yourselves

When administered effectively, promotional contests and sweepstakes have the potential to create a lot of buzz (and revenue) for the sponsor. However, as the above-referenced case demonstrates, contest sponsors may also find themselves facing substantial legal liability.

Before sponsoring any contest, sweepstakes or other promotion, businesses should retain an experienced marketing attorney to help formulate the contest and draft associated contest rules. In many cases, marketing counsel can structure contest rules so that entrants release the contest sponsor from all liability in connection with the subject promotion, including injuries ranging from personal injury or death, to copyright infringement and monetary loss.