Posted by Adam Jacobi
In the wake of the Declan Sullivan accident that rocked both the Notre Dame campus and the college football world as a whole, Notre Dame announced that it would not be using scissor lifts -- the raised platforms frequently used by football programs to film practices from considerable heights -- until the investigation of Sullivan's death was complete. Nobody raised an eyebrow, as any investigation of an incident this serious should thoroughly examine every factor possible. It would have been worse from both a PR and legal standpoint if Notre Dame had said it wouldn't suspend use of the lifts.
The thing of it is, though, coaches use lifts for a reason: they're enormously useful, and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wasn't exactly clamoring to get Sullivan down from the lift before that day's terrible accident. So it's not exactly surprising to see that with Sun Bowl preparation in full swing, the Irish are back to using the lifts, before the Sullivan investigation is complete. Here's a picture from the Chicago Tribune 's Brian Hamilton from earlier today:
Notre Dame would later announce that while the Sullivan investigation is ongoing, it received clearance to use the lift from its office of risk management. This makes sense. If the issue with Sullivan's death was that scissor lifts are inherently unsafe in any weather condition and are liable to kill their occupants at any moment, every other football team in America would have stopped using them too. Nobody has bothered arguing that, however, because it's pretty obvious that the Sullivan accident was caused by the lift being used in substantially higher winds than regulations permit. All across the country, football programs follow regulations in the use of these lifts every day (and have done so for decades) without any incident. If anything, this development from Notre Dame only confirms what was widely suspected: that Sullivan's death was not caused by a random, unforeseeable equipment failure on a catastrophic level, but by misuse of that equipment. As long as Notre Dame uses the lift properly, in all likelihood, a similar accident will never happen again.
The bad news for Notre Dame, then, is that such a development only strengthens any possible wrongful death lawsuit, should the Sullivans go down that road. Again, Notre Dame is openly acknowledging the obvious: using scissor lifts under normal weather conditions is acceptable, but the conditions under which Sullivan was sent up that day were sufficently bad that he (obviously) should not have gone up. It's hard to draw any conclusion from that statement that doesn't directly implicate Notre Dame as liable for Sullivan's tragic death.