Family sues university over student's pancake eating contest death in Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut -- The mother of a Connecticut college student who choked to death on pancakes during an eating contest on campus last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

Rosanne Nelson sued Sacred Heart University on Monday in Bridgeport state court over the death of her daughter, 20-year-old Caitlin Nelson, of Clark, New Jersey.

"Caitlin's family is bringing this case to expose the dangers associated with amateur eating contests and to help prevent other families from having to endure this type of preventable tragedy," said Katie Mesner-Hage, of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, which represents the family in the lawsuit filed in Superior Court. "These contests are significantly more dangerous than people realize, and it's critically important for the public - especially educational institutions - to understand that certain foods are safer than others and a modicum of forethought can literally save lives."

Officials at the Catholic university in Fairfield declined to comment.

Nelson, whose father was a Port Authority police officer killed on 9/11, planned to obtain a master of social work upon graduating from Sacred Heart, said Mesner-Hage. Nelson also devoted her time to the Resiliency Center of Newtown, working with children affected by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The lawsuit seeks an undisclosed amount of money and states that Sacred Heart not only approved the contest and the use of pancakes, but it also failed to have medical personnel on-site in the event a student started choking.

Caitlin began struggling to breathe moments after the contest began, and police officers were called to provide emergency medical care.

Responding officers described finding a mass of pancake paste "like concrete" in Caitlin's airway, which was impossible to dislodge.

She died at a New York City hospital three days after participating in the eating contest.
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