As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, we start to partake in some of our favorite holiday traditions and festivities. One tradition that accompanies several holidays is that of the “food eating contest.” Although seeming harmless in nature, these contests can often turn deadly and can leave those who put on the contest in hot water. This is the case as it relates to the death of a 20 year old student at The Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. Specifically, the Washington Post and other news outlets have reported that the university is facing a lawsuit brought by 20-year-old student Caitlin Nelson’s family, after Ms. Nelson died after participating in a “pancake eating contest” to raise money for charity.
What is known about this contest is that upon the competition beginning, Ms. Nelson, like the other participants, started to shovel as many pancakes into her mouth at once in order to be the first to finish the contest. However, a few minutes into the contest, Ms. Nelson began to shake uncontrollably and collapsed. It was found that because of the nature of the pancakes – which largely consist of flour and liquid, which then turns into a “thick glob of paste” when the pancakes come into contact with saliva or other liquids, that Ms. Nelson’s airway was essentially completely compacted causing her to choke to death.
The family of Ms. Nelson in their lawsuit against the University made several allegations in regard to the liability of the University for this young woman’s death, among those being the following:
1. There was an inherent risk of harm to amateur participants in speed eating contests;
2. The use of pancakes in a food eating contest is particularly hazardous because of the food’s composition;
3. The University failed to investigate the safety of the contest before approving the same; and
4. The University did not have adequate and appropriate medical personnel at the contest to monitor the participants
Although the end result of this lawsuit cannot yet be predicted, it is important to understand the risks associated with these types of contests whether you are a participant or a business or other type of entity allowing these contests to take place. As we head into the holiday season, make sure you are putting your safety first while partaking in your favorite holiday traditions.
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