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Notre Dame Student's Death Could Cost Millions

By Jason Beahm on November 08, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old Notre Dame student, fell 50 feet to his death while filming a football practice in windy conditions. What does the tragic incident mean financially for Notre Dame?

It could mean a judgment as high as $30 million or more, according to Forbes. The university is looking at a massive wrongful death lawsuit by Sullivan's family over the Notre Dame student's death. If the university is found negligent and responsible for the majority of the fault, the potential compensatory damages would range from $15 million to $20 million. If punitive damages are also tacked on, the university could be looking another $45-$60 million.

Wrongful death is a civil action that arises when a person is killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or entity. A wrongful death action rests with the decedent's immediate family members, such as surviving spouses and children, and sometimes parents.

The first question, of course, is whether Notre Dame officials (including head coach Brian Kelly, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and members of the administration) acted negligently. Sullivan was videotaping the practice from a lift during winds that were gusting over 50-mph.

It seems that no one gave Sullivan's presence on the lift much thought. No one told him to come down from the lift, which is not designed to be used in severe windy conditions. Not even Jack Swarbrick, who was standing 20 to 30 yards away when he fell, told him to come down.

Coach Kelly made a statement regarding the incident. While one can respect his need to protect himself legally, many found his statement lacking: "On Wednesday, I made the decision that we could have a productive and safe practice outdoors - productive because the conditions were such, although windy, were not unlike many days that I had practiced at other universities including here at the University of Notre Dame."

Count the New York Daily News among those who were unsatisfied by Kelly's statement. They posed a number of questions they would like to see answered regarding the death of Declan Sullivan:

  • Who told this young man to go up there in weather conditions like those?
  • Did anyone suggest to him that if he didn't go up there, they'd find somebody else who would?
  • Was Kelly considered to be Declan Sullivan's immediate supervisor, and if he wasn't, which adult associated with the Notre Dame football program was?
  • Did any adult at practice that day - Kelly, Swarbrick, anybody - really see the young man on top of the lift?
  • Or was he invisible to everyone until the lift and his life came crashing down?
  • More than anything, that is the question to which you keep coming back: How did this kid become invisible to every adult present at the LaBar practice facility?

Forbes predicts that Notre Dame will likely be found between 80% and 100% liable for the incident. Unfortunately, it's altogether possible this tragic incident could lead to some contentious litigation.

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