We have previously discussed the liability issues surrounding eating and drinking contests. Those concerns were raised again with the death of Walter Eagle Tail, 47, who choked to death during a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in Custer, South Dakota.
Paramedics were called to assist Eagle Tail and he was transported to Custer Regional Hospital where he was declared dead. A bystander was doing CPR on him before the paramedics arrived. It is believed that he suffocated from a lodged hot dog. He was one of six contestants.
The event organizers cancelled a pie eating contest after the incident.
Eagle Tail sold jewelry at the Crazy Horse Memorial, particularly bear claw necklaces.
Surprisingly, despite their popularity, deaths remain relatively rare at these contests. We previously discussed the death of a man at a cockroach eating contest in Florida in 2012.
These contests raise obvious defenses of assumption of the risk for participants, who clearly understand the danger of choking and the health implications of eating dozens of hot dogs. Even in states that have curtailed implied assumption of the risk, there is likely waivers signed before most large competitions and sponsors are protected under comparative negligence principles. Hot dog competitions always struck me as particularly risky. Pie eating contests involve a food that is less likely to cause choking. Indeed, some of the less common eating contests would seem ideal for minimizing choking hazards from the grits eating contest in South Carolina to the Gyoza (Dumpling) Eating Championship in California to the Cheese Curd Festival in Wisconsin to the Annual Testicle Festival in Montana. Wolfing down deep fried bull testicles may be more of a social than a medical hazard.
In the end, it is the decision of the participants in assuming such risks. Eagle Tail made that choice but it will not make the loss any easier for his family or friends. There is a memorial site dedicated to him that was set up by a friend who sold jewelry with him in South Dakota at this site.