This Monday, a Mississippi resident sued a number of the “American Idol” contest’s sponsors after he allegedly suffered a serious internal ear injury in connection with the promotion.

What steps can sweepstakes and contest sponsors take to limit their legal exposure?

“American Idol” Contest

One of the most successful promotional contests of all time, “American Idol,” pitted amateur singers against one another before a panel of judges on national television for a chance at a major record deal from one of the contest’s sponsors.

The “American Idol” promotion was televised by Fox Broadcasting Company (“Fox”) for fifteen seasons (ending in April 2016). Since 2010, Universal Music Group’s (“UMG”) Interscope Records has been the promotion’s record label contest sponsor.

Injured Contestant Sues Contest Sponsors

Michael Simeon Smith is a former “American Idol” contestant. Smith was allegedly required to be fitted with a silicon ear piece as part of his agreement to enter the promotion.

In 2014, while a hearing aid specialist was fitting his ear piece, Smith claims that he felt pain and asked for the ear piece to be removed. According to court records, Smith began bleeding from the ear after a portion of his eardrum was removed with the ear piece.

Smith’s complaint alleges that he underwent medical treatment and “has been unable to perform music at the same level as prior to the incident, due to the absence of much of his eardrum.”

On December 12, 2016, Smith sued Fox, UMG, Interscope Records and a number of the promotion’s other contest sponsors in California State court in Los Angeles (Case No. BC643000) for alleged negligence, product liability and breach of warranty. Smith is seeking undisclosed monetary damages for his injury.

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 promotion’s sponsors. 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 liability in connection with the subject promotion, including injuries ranging from personal injury to copyright infringement. It is unclear from the above-referenced complaint whether the subject contestant agreed to such a release from liability as part of the contest entry process.