SHU blames dead student for choking in pancake eating contest
FAIRFIELD — Sacred Heart University says Caitlin Nelson only had herself to blame.
The 20-year-old college student died after taking part in an on-campus, school-sanctioned pancake eating contest for charity in March 2017.
Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university last year, saying Sacred Heart not only approved the contest and the use of pancakes, but also failed to have adequate medical personnel there.
Too bad, the university’s lawyer said in a response to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” the lawyer, James M. Sconzo, wrote.
And if anyone is to blame for Nelson’s death, Sacred Heart says, it’s Nelson herself.
Her “injuries and damages were caused in whole or in part by Caitlin Nelson’s own carelessness and negligence,” the filing says.
In the filing, the university denies not having medical personnel at the eating contest, without elaborating.
In an e-mail Tuesday, Sacred Heart Director of Communications Deb Noack said “The Sacred Heart community continues to mourn the loss of Caitlin Nelson.”
“Beyond that, we are unable to comment on ongoing litigation,” Noack said.
The lawsuit says that moments after the contest began, Nelson began struggling to breathe, and police officers were called to provide emergency medical care.
Responding officers described finding a mass of pancake paste “like concrete” in her airway, which was impossible to dislodge.
Nelson died after being taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and then to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where tests determined her brain was “severely damaged from oxygen deprivation,” the lawsuit says.
According to Sacred Heart, Nelson should have investigated the risks of eating contests and techniques on how to participate in them safely.
In Tuesday’s filing the university also accused her of not exercising reasonable caution or judgment and “failing to maintain proper and appropriate use of her senses.”
A scheduling order in the case envisions settlement talks will take place in September 2020, with a trial tentatively scheduled for January 2021.
Nelson, a Clark, N.J., resident whose father was a Port Authority police officer killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, planned to obtain a master of social work upon graduating from Sacred Heart, according to the lawsuit.
She also devoted her time to the Resiliency Center of Newtown, working with children affected by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
A message was left with the lawyer representing her family Tuesday.