Family Of Pennsylvania College Student Sues Sacred Heart University Over Death During Eating Contest

Drinking and eating contests were once the rage.  While most (though not all) of the drinking contests are gone, eating contests are still prevalent.  The risk of choking is obvious in such contests as is tragically evident in Connecticut in a new filing.  The family of Caitlin Nelson, 20, is suing Sacred Heart University for her death in a pancake-eating contest. The filing is based on “the preventable dangers associated with amateur eating competitions.”

The lawsuit alleged that responding officers found a mass of pancake paste “like concrete” in Nelson’s airway.

This is not the first tragedy for the Nelson family.  Caitlin’s dad was a Port Authority officer who died in the September 11th attacks.

The eating contest was part of the school’s Greek Week activities and Nelson’s sorority was participating to raise money for a children’s charity.  The complaint notes that the school did not actively monitor to prevent “chipmunking” where contestants hold food in their mouths.

Notably, Nelson died on March 31st.  On April 2, Travis Malouff, 42, died in an eating contest at Voodoo Doughnuts in Denver, Co.   The “Tex-Ass” challenge is available at all Voodoo locations and required contestants to eat a half-pound, seven-inch diameter doughnut in 80 seconds. Malouff died of “asphyxia, due to obstruction of the airway.”

Any negligence case could face a threshold question of a waiver, which is standard in eating contests held by businesses.  It is not clear if the University insisted on such a waiver in this case. There is also the question of Plaintiff’s conduct.  Under Pennsylvania General Assembly Statute §7102, Pennsylvania follows a modified comparative negligence rule where you can recover only if you are less at fault than the defendant.  A plaintiff must be found to be less than 51 percent at fault to recover.

Since Nelson was an adult and voluntarily accepted the risk, where would you place the percentage of fault?

57 thoughts on “Family Of Pennsylvania College Student Sues Sacred Heart University Over Death During Eating Contest”

  1. Those are can: Do.
    Those who can’t: Teach.
    Those who can’t teach: Teach teachers.

    1. Liberty2nd – Those that cannot teach become administrators. Those that teach teachers have Ph.Ds and at least 10 years in the classroom of their area in Arizona.

  2. Quite sorry for her mother and father, but I cannot see how they have a claim should the positive law be congruent with justice.

  3. Everyone knows that college students are immature and highly subject to peer pressure, desperately wanting to belong and to be accepted, since they are away from home and the peers they grew up with. This is why they allow themselves to be abused in hazing, sometimes resulting in death, and also participate in gluttony contests such as this one. Schools shouldn’t allow such contests. Why should someone be exposed to the risk of death while competing to shove food into their bodies?

    1. That’s reasonable, but if the answer is that schools should not allow the contests, there’s still the question of whether they should be held responsible for injuries if they do. After all, though not fully mature, college students are legally adults in every state but Mississippi.

      1. If the school sponsored this gluttony contest, then, yes, they bear some measure of responsibility for the foreseeable consequences. Since the jurisdiction is comparative fault, let the jury decide where the percentages of fault lie. The fact that a school sanctions such contests, then to some degree this mitigates the student’s insight and responsibility for the risks.

        1. And the “gluttony contest” was “for charity.” I wonder how much money was raised by the event.

          Schools should not be promoting this sort of thing.

        2. The WSJ article uses the word “sanction” which only means that the University permitted the event. I don’t see why that should make it liable. All types of student behavior is permitted. Furthermore, you began by basing your opinion on the immaturity of the students, and haven’t dealt with the fact that the students are legally adults. Turley thought that was a significant point.

    2. Everyone knows that college students are immature

      You’re projecting again, Natacha.

  4. Addressing the repealing the 14th Amendment by executive order would be a more relevant article for today by a Constitutional law expert.

    1. In the end, he “help”s to shape the world by what he posts — and what he chooses not to post.

      1. You’re too dumb to know what the original intent and understanding of the 14th amendment was when it was written. This is yet another example of how stupid those on the left are. You never cared about the Constitution in the first place which is why you have no understanding of what it means. Go do some research you lazy moron.

  5. 40,000 Americans who died while using roads in 2017 have strong cases agaisnt all levels of government which constructed and maintain those roads, and they have strong cases agaisnt automobile manufacturers.

    1. she gets 75 % . i have always thought these contests were stupid and a bad idea so 1/4 fault on the venue

      1. And drivers can blame the roads…like Christine Blasey Ford blamed Kavanaugh, fraudulently and frivolously, entirely without evidence.

  6. “Since Nelson was an adult and voluntarily accepted the risk, where would you place the percentage of fault?”

    For the defendant, I’d place it at zero.

  7. People die doing all sorts of stupid things. For example:
    If Running Marathons Is So Healthy Why Do People Die Running Them?

    Completing a marathon is thought of by many as the epitome of health. But every year there are reports of people dropping dead before they cross the finish line.

    Most recently, a healthy 30-year-old who was running the London Marathon to raise money for an organization that helps prevent suicides collapsed about a mile short of the finish line; medics were unable to revive her.

    Such deaths, though uncommon, are not unheard of.

    Eleven runners have died while running the London Marathon since it began in 1981, and every year a handful of runners die while competing in such events (one study put the rate of sudden cardiac deaths during a marathon at 0.8 per 100,000 participants1).

    What’s going on in these cases? Is marathon running really as “healthy” as it’s made out to be?

    Not to mention, Prof. Turley who dang near died hiking out in California.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  8. The school should countersue the parents for not teaching the dork how to eat. Eat Rite or don’t eat at all.

    1. “Eat Rite”? How does this apply when it’s a competition to see who can eat the most in a given period of time?

  9. The question ‘du jour’ seems to be, What inalienable right would an eating contest represent? Would banning eating contests be too politically correct, too progressive? The double whammy would be appropriating the food of another culture and combining that with an eating contest. All you can eat, Sushi or Taco or Pasta contest.

  10. The public spends billions of dollars over years and years for education and the results is that we end up with a generation of children incapable of thinking independently and making good choices.

  11. This girl’s death is an extremely sad story.
    My husband was a member of a Baylor fraternity in the Fall of 1967 when they were having their traditional yearly hazing of pledges activities. The fraternity had always had an ambulance standing by at the event, just in case someone got sick…although no one ever had. Tragically, one of the pledges did not follow instructions and choked to death….actually inhaled liquid into his lungs. The medics couldn’t save him. This horrible incident sent shock waves across the nation, and changed hazing rules on campuses for most universities.
    No one there that night fully recovered emotionally. Although the family did not sue, they might as well have for all of the angst and guilt experienced by the deceased student’s classmates. None have gotten over this tragedy……..and it was 51 years ago.

    1. i saw a tv drama on that when i was little and a guy in diapers choked on a piece of raw liver. needless to say it affected me and I never joined a frat

      1. Mr. Kurtz……..the sad irony was that this fraternity was more of a service organization, not really a classic idea of a fraternity.
        They trained and fed the bears (mascots) and they ran the Homecoming Parade and special events. They were not party guys…..there was no drinking when they were in charge. Actually no drinking anywhere…it was Baylor.

        1. I knew an old East Texas lawyer who had gone to law school at Baylor and he liked his whiskey. I surmise a lot of dry counties had folks who liked their whiskey too.

          1. Mr. Kurtz……oh yes……A lot of Baylor boys were drinkers…but not on campus and at no functions sanctioned by Baylor.
            Old East Texas attorneys are interesting men, and if they’re Baylor Law grads, they’re dynamite in the courtroom.

  12. Severity of crime increases jury’s belief in guilt: study
    Duke University
    2018 Oct 29

    So should we replace the jury with robots?

    1. Since social psychology is plagued with non-replicable work, no study should motivate you to do a damn thing.

    2. certainly not and in case you were not aware there is a seventh amendment right to trial by jury. not robot. though I am sure silicon valley would love to accomodate this idea.

      1. Unless, of course, it is a robot that is on trial. Then it would be appropriate as a jury of its peers.

  13. I am thinking they were savvy enough to have waivers and everyone will be in the clear. The attorney may be hoping for a quick settlement rather than take it to trial.

  14. Who should you fix blame to the school, the 20 year old student, the sorority, the charitable organization or maybe just misadventure.

  15. Whatever is the sponsoring entity’s ratio of responsibility, it’s less than the deceased, but not by much! What kind of world do we live in to have “eating contests?” Eating too much is a vice, some say a sin. And here we publicly award the behavior? Weird and wrong, and a lot of both!

  16. Eating contests are a bad idea. I don’t think people understand the risk. It’s just begging for people to choke, rupture something, or have some other medical issue. Too much of anything is bad, including water. Which is why drinking water contests cause people to die from electrolyte loss/hyponatremia.

    I feel so terrible for her parents and friends. Such a senseless loss. The consistency made it impossible for regular first aid efforts to save her, which must have been devastating to the nursing students who tried to help.

    People need to be aware of the risks and just not do it.

    1. This must have also hit the children’s charity hard that she was raising money for.

  17. The spectacle is in my view not worth the liability risk, regardless of whether or not a waiver is binding.

    1. When I was 19 from a poor family, I was considered sufficiently mature to be maimed or killed in governmental service in Vietnam.

      Surely, this 20-year-old woman from a wealthy family was mature enough to eat pancakes at college.

      Judges and Justices should be impeached and convicted with extreme prejudice for manifest squandering of taxpayer dollars.

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