Notre Dame refuses to assign blame for student's death

Notre Dame University president Rev. John Jenkins said in an open letter that “no one acted in disregard for safety” on Oct. 27 when a hydraulic lift blew over at the school’s football practice, killing 20-year-old student Declan Sullivan.

The school ticked off a list of causes for the accidental death, not one of which held a human responsible for Sullivan being up in the lift on a day with extremely strong winds. Instead, Jenkins says the school is “collectively responsible” for Sullivan’s death, according to Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune.

There were high winds throughout the day and per the report finally released by the school there was a “sudden and extraordinary” 53 mph burst of wind. The report also cited staff members’ lack of knowledge that it was windy. The report said the specific lift Sullivan was using was more susceptible to falling over than others being used that day. The report cites the height of the lift Sullivan was in.

Sounds like a long list of excuses and additional groundwork for a monster lawsuit should Sullivan’s family choose to pursue that route. The reasons cited by the school make it clear to us that many people acted without regard to safety.

"What we found is that numerous decisions by many people -- made in good faith on that (day) and even over the course of several years -- played a role in the accident,” the school’s executive vice president John Affleck-Groves said.

When is mandating that practice be taped in even the most austere conditions “good faith?”

The report states: “(Head coach Brian) Kelly depends on (director of football operations Chad) Klunder, (video coordinator) Tim) Collins, and (then-head trainer) Jim Russ to inform him if the weather will pose a problem or if any precautions should be taken for player safety.”

Sounds to us like Kelly didn’t have the information he needed that day. If that’s the case, then Kelly should be at fault.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Notre Dame $77,500 last month for ignoring standards that could have prevented Sullivan’s death. Notre Dame apparently doesn’t believe the punishment is appropriate. The school has appealed.

"The university, then, is collectively responsible," Jenkins wrote. "Insofar as the President is responsible for the university as a whole, I am the individual who bears the most responsibility, and I accept that responsibility.”

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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