Notre Dame Death Raises Wrongful Death Questions

Earlier this week Notre Dame University wrapped-up its investigation of an accident last October in which a 20-year-old student was killed when the mobile lift from which he was filming football practice toppled over amidst high winds. In a news conference the school’s president announced, in effect, that because everyone involved was partly to blame for Declan Sullivan’s death no one in particular was actually responsible, according to an account by sports columnist Mike McGovern.

The idea that universal blame for this tragedy means no one is individually responsible is disturbing – especially since, in many respects, it clashes with the findings of Indiana’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration. That organization fined the university for a list of workplace safety violations related to the accident. According to McGovern: “Notre Dame was cited for failure to properly train the students, failure to have the lift serviced and inspected as required, failure to have an operator’s manual on the lift and failure to have warning labels displayed.” IOHSA has levied over $77,000 in fines for these violations, which the university is contesting.

At a more basic level, however, someone made the decision to send Sullivan up an unsafe lift “in known adverse conditions.” Someone decided that videotaping football practice overrode legitimate concerns about a student’s safety.

One of the main reasons why we have civil courts – why our system of laws allows individuals to seek justice independent of the criminal prosecutions system – is to ensure that victims and their families can demand accountability at moments such as this. As an Oregon wrongful death attorney I am committed to helping families achieve the justice they deserve in situations where those who bear responsibility cannot, or will not, own up to their responsibilities.

Regardless of whether the tragedy at Notre Dame constitutes wrongful death, or fits the legal definition of an industrial accident, it is a painful reminder of the responsibilities all universities have to see to the safety of their students. That lesson is one that is as important here in Oregon as it is in Indiana.

Reading Eagle: Seems no one is to blame for death at Notre Dame

SB Nation: Promoting Declan Sullivan’s legacy more important than firing those responsible