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updated: 7/1/2011 5:34 PM

Sullivan family has no problem with ND fine reduction

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  • Declan Sullivan

    Declan Sullivan


Declan Sullivan's family expressed no qualms Friday with the University of Notre Dame agreement to pay a reduced fine to the Indiana Department of Labor over the Long Grove student's death.

"None of that really matters to the family at all," Sullivan's uncle Mike Miley said. "What's most important to the family is the actions the university takes."

Sullivan, a 20-year-old senior from Long Grove, died on Oct. 27 when wind gusts of more than 30 mph toppled the hydraulic scissor lift Sullivan stood on while he video recorded a Notre Dame football practice.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Notre Dame on Friday announced a settlement that reduces Notre Dame's fine by $35,500, but stipulates the school must make a "significant" donation to the family's memorial fund within 90 days. Notre Dame must also lead a nationwide safety campaign about the dangers of scissor lifts, to start within 180 days. And the school must employ a liaison between the athletic department and the risk-management division to ensure employee safety.

"I don't know in exact detail what 'significant' means to the university," Miley said from a family vacation in Wyoming. "I can tell you (Sullivan's parents) know what that initial amount is," he said, adding that he didn't know the figure. Notre Dame declined to comment on the payment, calling it a private matter.

The university paid a $42,000 fine to the state, down from the $77,500 originally sought. The fine levied in March was the largest the department could issue.

State officials are hailing the agreement as Notre Dame going "above and beyond" what the school was required to do.

"It requires one of the nation's most well-known universities to create and implement a mechanism for spreading education about scissor lifts that are used in a range of educational and athletic settings, it requires changes at Notre Dame to ensure employee safety going forward, and it formally recognizes Declan Sullivan's memory," said Lori Torres, commissioner for the labor department, in a news release.

"It wasn't uncommon in my research,"Miley said, "to see an organization that has received a fine to go beyond the minimum and in return have their sentence, their findings -- whatever -- reduced."

Miley said the school is in the process of its own memorial for Sullivan. The family will use the donation to contribute to charities or groups that interested his nephew, Miley said. Those details haven't been finalized, he added.

"We're satisfied that this process is behind us," Miley said. "What we're looking for know is to properly memorialize Declan and to make sure other families don't go through what we went through."

Sullivan was paid to record practices and told to not go above 50 feet in the lift. The National Weather Service that day reported a gust that reached 53 mph, as football programs across the Midwest brought their teams indoors to avoid the severe conditions.

In March, safety investigators found Notre Dame negligent with six violations that created an unsafe workplace for Sullivan. Investigators reported he was not properly trained to use the equipment, and that equipment had not been properly maintained. Sullivan used his cellphone while on the scissor lift and posted online comments about the windy conditions. At one point, he joked that he was going to die.

Notre Dame also conducted its own investigation, which found no one acted with disregard for safety. School officials reasoned proper protocols were not established for use of the lifts, not only at Notre Dame but elsewhere. The school also reported officials used outdated weather information in determining if it was safe for videographers to go up. They've since stopped the use of scissor lifts for recording practice, instead installing remote video cameras on top of their football field's goal posts.

School officials had the right to appeal the March IOSHA finding, but instead the two sides engaged in talks that led to the settlement. In the final agreement, the violations were reduced to a "serious" level instead of the initially cited "knowing" level, which would have implied a higher level of culpability.

"We felt it was important to extend the conversation with IOSHA to obtain the highest level of accuracy in its final report," said Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown in a news release. "At its essence, we felt that the lack of available national standards on wind-related safety procedures made it impossible to put anyone in harm's way on a 'knowing' basis, as we explained in our own investigation report."