Turner Broadcasting has agreed to pay Boston-area authorities $2 million to compensate for a Cartoon Network marketing stunt that caused a bomb scare, shutting down major roads, bridges and part of the Charles River for much of a day last week.
The settlement, more than double an earlier estimate of what it cost state and local police to respond, includes $1 million in “goodwill funds” that will be divided among the various agencies and used for programs that support homeland security, emergency preparedness and safety education, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
The daylong panic was triggered by dozens of battery-powered boards festooned with small lights in the form of a character from Cartoon Network’s “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” series. Campaign had been under way for several weeks in Boston as well as nine other major U.S. cities.
Initially, Boston authorities estimated the cost of responding at $750,000, but that ballooned to $1 million in the days following the scare. Seeking to repair some of the public relations damage, Turner added $1 million to the sum.
The Massachusetts State Police will receive $345,563, the Metro Boston Transit Authority $315,198 and the City of Boston $242,295.
Settlement does not cover Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the Boston artists who placed the devices for street marketing firm Interference, but prosecutors are in talks with their attorneys to resolve the charges short of trial.
Settlement averts a legal showdown with the state, but fallout from the stunt will likely keep Turner lawyers in court for some time as individuals and businesses file suit claiming they suffered damage as a result of the marketing stunt.
Sensing blood in the water, plaintiffs’ attorneys are expected to start rolling individual claims into class actions, which could end up costing Turner millions to litigate or settle.
The $2 million payment and strong language from the attorney general could end up hurting Turner in court.
“I think Turner is doing the right thing from a public relations standpoint, but from a purely legal standpoint, this could be the basis of later lawsuits and may come back to haunt them,” said R. Bruce Duffield, partner at Chicago-based law firm Bryan Cave.
Turner’s strongest defense may be that the campaign ran for weeks in Boston and in other cities without generating any panic.
“This communication did not create any clear and present danger,” Duffield said.
Turner, which declined to comment beyond a statement, said, “We are reviewing our policies concerning local marketing efforts and strategies to ensure that they are not disruptive or perceived as threatening and are committed to making any necessary changes to our internal processes to prevent similar incidents in the future.”