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Declan Sullivan Death: Notre Dame Pins Blame on 'No One' ... and Everyone

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 30: Fans in the student section of Notre Dame Stadium participate in a moment of silence for Declan Sullivan, a student who was killed this past week videotaping a football practice in high winds, before a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on October 30, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Alex FergusonSenior Analyst IIApril 18, 2011

In the last few months we've been a little loud about the fact that the family of the dead Notre Dame student, Declan Sullivan, who perished while filming the Irish on a platform in 50mph winds, should be heftily paid out by the University over the loss of their son.

And while the State of Indiana, through the ISOHA, decided to fine Notre Dame over $70,000—the maximum an institution can be fined over what amounts to bad practice over health and saftety risks—the University of Notre Dame has brought out an internal report, which blames nobody and yet everybody.

"After a thorough and painstaking study in which numerous university personnel were interviewed and external experts consulted, we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety," school president Rev. John Jenkins said in a letter.

He continued: "Each individual involved based his decisions and actions that day on the best information available at the time and in accord with the procedures that were in place. The procedures regarding wind safety obviously did not prevent this accident and must be brought up to the more rigorous standards that we have for other weather conditions-such as cold, heat, humidity, and lightning. Many individuals and departments share the collective responsibility for the inadequacy of the procedures that led to this tragedy. The university, then, is collectively responsible. 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."

The report added: "The Investigation identified several factors that caused or contributed to the accident, including: (1) the presence of unusual wind conditions; (2) staff members’ lack of knowledge regarding current and projected weather conditions; (3) characteristics of the lift involved in the accident; and (4) the height of the lift involved in the accident. Each played a role, standing not as a sole cause but rather collectively causing the accident."

I get the fact that Rev. Jenkins is apologetic, and wouldn't want this to happen to anyone. But the fact is this: Some one screwed up. On Sullivan's Twitter feed he said that he didn't want to go out and film in high winds—so he knew it was going to be pretty risky.

But if there's a finger to be pointed, it's got to be at the staff: "Had the staff accessed real-time weather information during practice, they would have learned that wind gusts exceeded the internal 35 mph wind limit and would have grounded the lifts. Moreover, although Declan was aware of a wind warning that day that was later downgraded prior to practice, the staff—despite frequent weather checking—did not access that information when they checked the weather that afternoon. Had staff members been aware of the wind warning and later advisory, they might have acted differently."

So wait a minute...there were people at fault: the practice staff. Why hasn't one of them been fired or lost his job over this? And why hasn't someone offered their resignation?

If I were the University of Notre Dame (and I'm sure their lawyers have made sure the school talks about " collective responsibility" so that a single person isn't sued or jailed—or both), I would—as a decent thing—offer to refund Sullivan's $55,000 per year education and board he and his family have had to pay out. Plus the last year as a gesture would be nice, too. And they can match the money the State of Indiana has fined them too. Sure, $290,000 won't bring back the kid, but it would be a decent thing to do.

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