The University of Notre Dame released their full internal report on the October 2010 death of student videographer Declan Sullivan today. The findings shy away from blaming a single individual for Sullivan's fall from a hydraulic lift while fliming the Notre Dame football team in a fall practice. Sullivan's death, according to University President John Jenkins, was the result of a combination of factors including sudden and unpredictable weather conditions and a lack of effective protocols regarding lift use in inclement weather.
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. 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 principal factors in Sullivan's death were, according to the report:
- Unusual wind conditions. Sullivan's death resulted from a 53 mile per hour gust of wind at 4:54 p.m., a gust of wind the report suggests only occurs in the South Bend, Indiana area once every three years or so.
- Football Staff Lack of Knowledge Regarding Weather Conditions. Staff members admittedly did not check real-time weather reports, and were not provided updates during practice.
- The lift in question, the Marklift MT40G, was not rated to 70 mph as other lift models in use by Notre Dame that day were.
- The lift was at full extension, thus making it more susceptible in already dangerous wind conditions.
The report did not find any individual members of the Notre Dame program responsible for Sullivan's death. President Jenkins did make these remarks in the opening, however.
Sullivan, who was a 20 year old junior at Notre Dame, tweeted "I guess I've lived long enough" from the tower less than 45 minutes before his death. The University is currently appealing an OSHA fine in the Sullivan case, and is facing much larger financial damages in any potential civil suit rulings against Notre Dame in future litigation resulting from Sullivan's death--an institutional culpability this report seems to assume on first reading.
Many individuals and departments share the collective responsibility for the inadequacy o f 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.
Let me conclude by expressing to the Sullivan family our deepest sorrow for the loss of Declan. You entrusted him to our care, and we failed to keep him safe.