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.”
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?