We have previously discussed (and here and here)the liability issues associated with eating competitions. This week we have see two deaths in pancake eating and doughnut eating competitions. Caitline Nelson, 20, died at a fraternity and sorority event at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. Travis Malouff, 42, died in a giant donut competition in Denver, Colorado.
Nelson collapsed during the fundraising event in Fairfield, Connecticut. She had eaten four to five pancakes. Two nursing students tried to revive her but she died three days later. Nelson was the vice president of her sorority at Sacred Heart University.
The Nelson family has previously dealt with terrible grief after Caitlin’s father, John Nelson, died as a Port Authority police officer on 9-11. She is shown below with her father and was only 5 years old when her father died.
In Denver, Colorado, Malouff entered an eating contest run by the new Voodoo Doughnuts in Denver. He tried to eat a giant doughnut in less than 80 seconds as part of the shop’s “Tex-Ass Challenge.” The doughnut is the size of six regular doughnuts. The winners get a free meal and a free button.
The medial examiner found he died from “asphyxia, due to obstruction of the airway.”
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. Nevertheless, these contests present heightened choking and heart attack risks.
Is it negligence to offer such competitions in your view?