The mother of a man killed by Weather Channel storm chasers has launched a lawsuit against the cable network, seeking $125million in damages for his death. On March 28, 2017, under the employ of the Weather Channel, storm chasers Randall Yarnall , 55, and Kelley Gene Williamson, 57, ran a stop sign at 70mph in their Chevy Suburban to film a tornado they were chasing. In doing so, they ran into 25 year old Corbin Lee Jaeger in his Jeep Patriot, resulting in a collision that left all three dead. In a lawsuit filed by the Law Office of Robert A. Ball, which is representing the heir and estate of Jeager, the Plaintiff’s complaint writes, “The Weather Channel’s concept of presenting storm chasing as adventurous, thrilling sporting event and to make its two stars “heroes” resulted in the violent death of young Corbin Lee Jaeger.” At the time, Jaeger was a certified storm spotter for the National Weather Service, who had planned to return to college in Arizona to pursue a career as a meteorologist.
The lawsuit points out the Weather Channel disregarded public safety for the purpose of putting on a sensational broadcast. “The Weather Channel made Williamson and Yarnall television stars, breaking laws, driving on private property, driving off-road, in ditches, through hail storms, driving the wrong way on freeway ramps, on the wrong side of the roadway, through red lights and stop signs, all to increase the sense of danger to their television audience and sell advertising and have a hit show,” the suit stated. “The result was the death of a young man, Corbin Lee Jaeger,” it added.
The Weather Channel released a brief statement to the media upon receipt of the lawsuit. “We are saddened by the loss of Corbin Jaeger, Kelley Williamson, and Randy Yarnall. They were beloved members of the weather community and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved. We cannot comment on pending litigation,” the statement read.
The lawsuit cited text messages between a storm chaser and one of the show’s producers. The unnamed chaser warned the producer that Williamson, who was driving the Chevy Suburban at the time of the accident, had concerning driving behavior. “We are just hoping he doesn’t get hurt or hurt anyone else,” the unnamed chaser wrote in a text just weeks before the accident. The day after the accident, the chaser, not involved in the fatal accident, wrote to the producer, “I am obviously in a way dark place right now. I know many of us are. I guess that’s [what’s] killin me. I tried to tell him over and over.”
Nevertheless, the lawsuit says, the channel kept employing Williamson and Yarnall, “which ultimately led to Corbin Jaeger’s tragic and completely avoidable demise.”
On the morning of the accident, Yeager Tweeted a picture of his Jeep Patriot from the MaxWX Chasing group Twitter account, adding that he was doing a “reassessment” of tornado chase plans for the day.
— MadWX Chasing (@madwxchasing) March 28, 2017
According to the lawsuit, streaming video shot by Yarnall and Williamson which aired on the Weather Channel showed them breezing through stop signs, ignoring safety and law. The video feed ends at about the time they collided with Jaeger.
The lawsuit could be quite sizeable for the cable network, which recently changed hands last March. The Weather Channel was acquired by TV personality and media mogul Byron Allen from Comcast, Bain Capital, and the Blackstone Group for $300 million. IBM, which owns the Weather Channel website and mobile app, is facing another lawsuit by Los Angeles County, California; that suit, filed in January, claims the Weather Channel sold user data without their knowledge or permission. While they share content, data, and brand name, the website and mobile app is a separate entity from the cable network.