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Family of former Notre Dame student sues University for 2019 accident

| Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The family of a former Notre Dame freshman is suing the University for their son’s catastrophic injuries and for encouraging “a quasi-fraternity atmosphere,” according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in St. Joseph County.

The Observer previously reported on the student’s head injury in January of 2019.

On Jan. 27, 2019, Sean Tennant fell approximately 30 feet over a stairwell balcony from the second floor of Sorin Hall and hit the concrete floor inside the dorm, where Tennant was a student-resident. The fire department responded to the call around 2 a.m. to provide medical assistance.

Claire Rafford | The Observer
Sorin Hall, constructed in 1888, was the first designated residential hall for students.

As a result of the fall, Tennant suffered a traumatic brain injury and will suffer from several disabilities and deficits for the rest of his life, according to court documents. The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial for “compensatory and punitive damages against Defendant,” the University of Notre Dame Du Lac.

The plaintiffs argue that the structures of Sorin Hall “including but not limited to its stairwell and balcony railings are not maintained to current building code, have not been updated to incorporate modern safeguards and are not maintained in manner that is safe and consistent with their reasonably anticipated and/or known uses.”

As a result of the University’s negligence in the operation of Sorin Hall, the plaintiffs said in the court documents Tennant suffered severe injury.

Sorin Hall was constructed in 1888 and was the first designated residence hall on Notre Dame’s campus. The hall houses 143 male residents a year.

The complaint alleges alcohol was being consumed and served freely inside the residence hall, where a mix of legal age upperclassmen and underage students reside. The complaint stated “the Defendant has long known, and actively encouraged, a quasi-fraternity atmosphere amongst the student-residents of Sorin Hall.”

According to court documents, the plaintiffs said the Sorin Hall community culture includes “regularly drinking alcoholic beverages by students who are underage and of legal drinking age.”

Additionally, the complaint asserts the rector of Sorin Hall Fr. Robert Loughery was not in the building at the time of the incident but was aware of the party in the dorm and failed to take precautions to ensure the safety of the residents.

According to a Chicago Tribune article, attorney Peter Flowers of Illinois said he would not disclose Tennant’s blood-alcohol content which was taken later at the hospital.

The complaint demands a trial by jury for a “judgment for compensatory and punitive damages against Defendant,” including interests, costs and “proper relief.”

Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications, declined to comment on the case.

“The University has yet to be served with the complaint and reserves comment,” he said in an email.

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