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Notre Dame Fined $77,500 in Student’s Practice Film Death

The University of Notre Dame was fined $77,500 by Indiana’s top labor office for an accident that killed a 20-year-old student filming a football practice from a hydraulic lift in high winds.

The state Department of Labor said the South Bend, Indiana-based school “knowingly exposed its employees to unsafe conditions” that led to the death of Declan Sullivan, a junior from Long Grove, Illinois.

Sullivan died when the lift was blown over during a practice on Oct. 27. The state agency said in a statement that it investigated the accident and cited Notre Dame for “the most serious safety violation allowed” under Indiana law.

“The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that the university made a decision to utilize its scissor lift in known adverse weather conditions,” Lori Torres, the Department of Labor commissioner, said in the news release.

Notre Dame President John Jenkins said in an e-mailed release that the university made mistakes in the events surrounding Sullivan’s death.

“We failed to keep him safe, and for that we remain profoundly sorry,” Jenkins said.

The South Bend area was under a hazardous weather outlook that forecast sustained winds of 25 mph to 35 mph and gusts of 45 mph on the day Sullivan died. He was working 50 feet in the air when the lift toppled, ESPN reported at the time.

Safety Violations

Notre Dame, which was informed of the state’s actions this morning, was also fined for five serious safety violations, including failure to properly train student employees to use the lift and failure to give the equipment annual, monthly or weekly inspection for more than a year, the report said.

The school has 15 business days to either pay the fines and correct the violations or contest the Department of Labor’s conclusions. John Affleck-Graves, university executive vice president and leader of Notre Dame’s investigation of the accident, said in an e-mailed statement that the school would meet with government officials within the appeal period and intends to file a report of its own findings in four to six weeks.

“We will study the details very carefully and take the actions necessary to protect the ongoing safety of our students and staff,” Jenkins said.

Notre Dame said last week that it would no longer use hydraulic lifts as filming platforms. It said it had begun building a remote video system at its practice fields, mounting four cameras on 50-foot poles.

“Nothing can change the tragic reality of what occurred last October, and all of us in Irish athletics continue to grieve with the Sullivans,” Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s athletic director, said in the statement.

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