The classic WKRP in Cincinnati episode “Turkeys Away,” is one of the greatest moments in television history. The radio station had a surprise Thanksgiving promotion that involved a helicopter “setting free” live turkeys from 2,000 feet above the Pinedale Shopping Mall. Unfortunately, the turkeys could not fly.
Dropping Turkeys from a Helicopter is Animal Abuse
There are many ways to prepare turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. Dropping them from a helicopter is not one of them.
Ohio law states that no person shall needlessly mutilate or kill an animal. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 959.13(A)(1). Dropping a flightless bird from 2,000 feet luckily has not appeared in Ohio case law, but would be the textbook definition of “mutilate.” Reporter Les Nessman described the turkeys hitting the ground like bags of wet cement. There is no question that the turkeys were mutilated by their high velocity impact on pavement and cars.
It was Negligence to Drop Turkeys from a Helicopter
Station manager Arthur Carlson claimed he thought turkeys could fly. Moreover, he stated his plan “should have worked.” There is a strong argument Carlson was negligent for his plan that resulted in the Pinedale Shopping Mall being bombed with live turkeys.
In order to prove Arthur Carlson was negligent, there first must be a duty; a breach of that duty, and an injury resulting from that breach. Menifee v. Ohio Welding Prods., Inc., 472 N.E.2d 707, 710 (Ohio 1984). The test to determine whether the risk of injury was foreseeable is whether “a reasonably prudent person would have anticipated that an injury was likely to result from the performance or nonperformance of an act.” Id., citations omitted.
Dropping objects out of a helicopter is objectively a dangerous activity that could result in those on the ground being injured. As such, there would be a duty to not drop objects from a helicopter on a parking lot with people. However, Carlson honesty thought turkeys could fly. Was that reasonable?
There is a strong argument that Carlson should have researched whether turkeys could fly, instead of assuming they could. Has anyone seen a flock of turkeys migrate south for the winter? Moreover, since Herb Tarlek purchased the turkeys at a farm, did Carlson think they somehow were kept in pens to avoid flying away?
There is a compelling argument that a reasonably prudent person would not have thrown a second turkey out of a helicopter after seeing the first turkey did not take flight upon release. Even if Carlson had a good faith reasonable belief that turkeys could fly, that belief was no longer reasonable after seeing the first bird in free fall.
Those suffering property damage from turkeys crashing into their cars could recover from Carlson’s negligence, because dropping turkeys out of a helicopter would have been a breach of Carlson’s duty to not drop flightless birds out of a helicopter over a populated area. However, being reasonably prudent would not have made one of the greatest moments in television history.