Notre Dame student from Gurnee suing school after suffering 'catastrophic' injury in fall

  • Gurnee resident Sean Tennant fell about 30 feet during a party at a Notre Dame dorm in January 2019.

    Gurnee resident Sean Tennant fell about 30 feet during a party at a Notre Dame dorm in January 2019. Courtesy of Meyers & Flowers

 
 
Updated 7/21/2020 9:52 PM

A University of Notre Dame student from Gurnee who suffered a catastrophic brain injury after falling about 30 feet in a dormitory stairwell last year is suing the school, alleging the dorm's "quasi-fraternity atmosphere" that encourages underage drinking is to blame for the fall.

The suit, filed Tuesday in St. Joseph County, Indiana, court by Sean Tennant and his parents, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Notre Dame for injuries that left him unable to walk, communicate or feed himself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications at Notre Dame, said Tuesday that the university has yet to be served with the complaint and reserves comment.

According the to lawsuit, Sean Tennant was a freshman at Notre Dame on Jan. 27, 2019, when he attended a party at the Sorin Hall dormitory. Alcohol was served at the party, including to underage students like Tennant, the suit states.

During the party, Tennant fell about 30 feet over a second-floor stairwell balcony to a concrete basement floor, suffering a severe traumatic brain injury, depressed skull fracture and a brain hemorrhage, the suit states. He has spent more than a year since in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, according to the Meyers & Flowers law firm representing the family.

The injuries have left Sean Tennant with a decreased ability to perform tasks of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and eating, decreased cognitive functions, and a decreased ability to socialize with family and friends, the suit states. He will need a lifetime of care, according to the family's representatives.

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The suit says a "carnival funhouse" atmosphere Notre Dame promotes at Sorin Hall and the 131-year-old dorm's outdated infrastructure are to blame for the injuries. The dorm houses upper- and underclassmen, and drinking alcohol is part of the community life there, the plaintiffs allege.

"Under guise of community and tradition, (Notre Dame) has promoted this quasi-fraternity atmosphere, while at the same time neglecting the Sorin Hall infrastructure, which is badly out of date and in need of repair and updating, and inevitably unsafe," the lawsuit alleges.

A rector assigned to monitor the residence hall was not present Jan. 27, 2019, despite knowing a party was going to occur, the suit states.

"Defendant knew or should have known that drinking, particularly underage drinking, without proper supervision and without adequate safeguards in place regarding the interior infrastructure of Sorin Hall, created a dangerous situation and environment where serious injury or death was probable or likely," according to the lawsuit.

Tennant's attorneys requested a jury trial for the case.

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